Bonnie Palardy, mother of arguably the most coveted kicking prospect in the 2010 class with nearly 15 offers from powerhouse programs, was prepared to make her veritable directorial debut with the video camera rolling as her son, Michael Palardy, phoned the head coach of his collegiate choice.
Except for one minor problem: Palardy didn't immediately connect with Tennessee skipper Lane Kiffin and instead got his voice mail while a crowd of nearly 15 friends and family members served as specatators. But like any good kicker, Palardy adjusted on the fly in making known he would become a Volunteer.
"The phone tag was actually pretty funny," said Palardy. "I called coach Kiffin first and he didn't answer. My mom was videotaping, I have it on speakerphone and he doesn't answer. I call coach (Eddie) Gran and he answers the phone. I said, 'I'm trying to tell coach Kiffin I want to go to his school and play for him and his football team. Coach Gran said, 'Give me two minutes.' I call him back and he's like, 'All right, coach Kiffin's ready for you.'
"I call him and he answers the phone, he was like, 'Mike, I'm real sorry man. I'm trying to get my kids to bed and they're yelling at me about trying to feed them vegetables.' He was real hyped up and excited about it. He said having someone to commit who can punt and kick is big because if I don't punt, I'm going to kick. And if I don't kick, I'm going to punt. It goes both ways. He said, 'You're another piece of our puzzle.' And Tennessee's going to have an awesome recruiting class. I'm really happy to be a Vol."
And Palardy conducted an exhaustive search that left Tennessee a clear-cut destination. He's known as much for the last month - ever since his family arrived in Knoxville on the first weekend of June for an unofficial visit.
"Whenever I went to Tennessee," Palardy said of when he knew UT was the right fit. "The only reason I ddin't announce then and there was because I kind of wanted to go and see what else was out there. I knew Tennessee would stick with me and I knew I was going to stick with Tennessee. People were committing to my top 5 schools, but I knew Tennessee was on top and I was on top of Tennessee's list. Whenever I went to Tennessee I was like, 'I love this place.' I just kind of wanted to see if I could compare other schools to Tennessee and I couldn't do it."
There is little comparable to the pedigree of Palardy's high school program, either. The 6-foot, 170-pounder from St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) carries on more than a decade-long tradition of kickers leaving the program for college football's highest level.
"I don't think there's any way to describe how thankful I am for coach (Tim) Conrad helping me out. He's been a huge part of this whole process, ever since Day 1, since I was a freshman," Palardy said. "He knew I had some God-given talent, and I went to varsity my sophomore year and he knew I was another kicker that could be one of the best if not the best. He gave me that opportunity and I took advantage of it. He stuck with me and had just been unbelievable. The legacy of kickers (including current Auburn kicker Wes Byrum) to come out of St. Thomas, I want to say this is the 15th year Tim Conrad has put a D-1 punter or kicker out in the NCAA. I'm just thankful to be that next piece."
With impressive power that allowed him to boot a 60-yard field goal in practice as a sophomore as Gran looked on and a 70-yarder last season in practice, Palardy also has been hailed by talent experts for his accuracy on field goals and ability to put kickoffs into end zones. Likewise, he's the rare player who could handle all three kicking positions at the D-1 level.
After feasting on lasagna, chicken, burgers, hot dogs and a couple of cakes brought by coach Conrad and a friend, Palardy tried to put into perspective the meaning of securing his college education to repay his parents for their sacrifices.
"I can tell you my parents are happy about that. In this economy, they're so happy for me," he said. "They're real thankful that I took advantage of what I got and the people I surrounded myself with and associated myself with. I didn't get myself in any trouble, was with the right people, did the right things. While people were sleeping in on Sundays, I was kicking, working my butt off, running, all that. My parents, we thank the world for coach Conrad and what he's done for me and my family. It's been a long road for my parents. Tonight was real emotional. My mom wanted to make it a toast but she was crying, and I'm the baby (he has an older brother, 24, who graduated from Florida, and a sister, 20, who's in art school) and the last one. She wants to acknowledge the fact that I'm out there and the people that have helped me through this process."
Similarly, Palardy has had a long road with Gran, and that longstanding relationship ultimately yielded a huge reward for the Vols.
"Coach Gran ever since I was a sophomore and he was at Auburn, I've had a real great relationship with him," Palardy said. "Not many kickers in college have their own coach that knows what he's talking about. Sometimes they just say go kick 40-50 balls and then you're done. Coach Gran will critique what I'm doing right and wrong. When I do a good job, he'll let me know I'm doing it right. And when I do something wrong, he'll say, 'Listen, I'm going to point this out and you correct it and let me see how you do with it.'
"The fact that I have that, there's I'm pretty sure tons of kickers in college that wish they would have a coach like that. The fact that I have that, I'm going to take advantage of it the next four or five years."
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