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NFL career kicks off
Cunningham heads to pros
2 Cunningham pic1
Chad Cunningham, a Dawson County graduate and former member of the Tennessee Volunteers football team, recently signed a free-agent contract with the NFLs Tennessee Titans. - photo by For the Dawson Community News

Dawson County High graduate and former University of Tennessee punter Chad Cunningham has signed a free-agent contract with the Tennessee Titans.

Cunningham went undrafted in April, but said that he believed he would get a shot with an NFL team.

That belief became reality when his agent, Jimmy Sexton, called Tuesday night and said the Titans were interested in him.

"It was great, getting the call and getting to sign a contract," said Cunningham, who graduated from Dawson County in 2006. "To get a shot in the NFL is just really a true blessing and I am just thrilled about it."

Chad Cunningham's father, Rory, said he was confident his son would get a chance in the NFL, but didn't know where.

"It's really special that he got this opportunity in Tennessee," Rory Cunningham said. "He went to school in Knoxville, he now lives in Memphis, and we live in Atlanta.

"So if he makes the team, we'll all be able to make it up and see him play."

According to his father, Chad Cunningham is the first Dawson County High graduate to sign a contract with a professional football team.

The younger Cunningham still must battle current Titans punter Brett Kern to earn a roster spot, but believes he has a strong chance to do so.

Kern averaged 42.9 yards per punt attempt last season, with a season best of 68 yards.

In college, Chad Cunningham averaged 42.3 yards per punt and had 11 punts during his senior season that traveled farther than 50 yards.

The former Tiger believes those numbers will increase after a long period of training he undertook during the NFL lockout.

When NFL owners and players began their monetary struggle about 4 1/2 months ago, Cunningham knew he would have to continue training if he hoped to get a shot in the pros.

That training took place at the University of Memphis, near where he lived with his fiancée.

During those months, Cunningham trained with New England Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski and Baltimore Ravens long snapper and close friend Morgan Cox.

He even got in some time with former UT teammate Britton Colquitt, who is a punter with the Denver Broncos.

Cunningham believes the training will make him a stronger punter.

"Just being around those guys and surrounding myself with people who know how life in the NFL is and can give me tips and advice, I think that's really going to help me," Cunningham said.

"And working on technique and the strength of my punts has really allowed me to improve."

He signed a three-year contract for an undisclosed amount and began practice with the team Saturday morning.

The Titans open the preseason on Aug. 13, when they will face the Minnesota Vikings at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn.