Aug. 19, 2016
Gamecocksonline.com will take a position-by-position look at the South Carolina football roster leading up to the September 1 season opener at Vanderbilt. Today we will focus on the specialists.
Lettermen Lost: Landon Ard.
New special teams coordinator Coleman Hutzler is blessed to have arguably the best returning placekicker/punter tandem in the SEC in seniors Elliott Fry and Sean Kelly. Fry continues in his quest to shatter nearly every placekicking record in school history and has his eyes set on becoming the all-time leading scorer in South Carolina Football history. Kelly, a former transfer from FAU, was outstanding in his first season in the Garnet & Black, helping the Gamecocks rank second in the SEC and seventh in the nation in net punting yards (41.3). Senior Drew Williams returns as the incumbent to handle the deep snapping duties for a third-straight season. As is usually the case in the spring, the Gamecocks will take a look at several candidates to handle kickoff and punt returns. Sophomore Rashad Fenton is certainly a candidate for kick return duty, as he averaged over 26 yards per return last season, and took one to the house at LSU. The sure hands of Pharoh Cooper on punt returns will be missed.
PLACEKICKER: The Gamecocks have one of the nation’s best in senior Elliott Fry. Fry, who has been the Gamecocks’ placekicker for every contest since stepping foot on campus back in 2013, has scored 289 career points. He needs to tally just 41 points in his final campaign to match Collin Mackie’s school record of 330 points. Fry has been successful on nearly 75 percent of his field goal attempts, and that average jumps to 81 percent when attempting from under 50 yards. He is also “Mr. Automatic” on extra points, as he has connected on a school record 124 consecutive PATs and is 130-for-131 in his career. Redshirt freshman Michael Almond was penciled in as the number two placekicker entering the fall, but is getting stiff competition from true freshman Alexander Woznick. Joseph Charlton could also figure in the mix, should something happen to Fry.
PUNTER: As is the case at placekicker, the Gamecocks are in excellent shape in the punting game. Senior Sean Kelly returns following an outstanding campaign in 2015. Kelly’s 44.3-yard average ranked fourth in the SEC, while the team’s 41.3-yard net punting average ranked second in the league and seventh in the nation. Kelly has averaged 42.1 yards per punt throughout his career, which began at Florida Atlantic. Redshirt freshman Joseph Charlton, who came to Carolina as a scholarship athlete, enters the fall as the backup punter and has shown an impressive leg throughout fall camp. Michael Almond could figure in as well.
LONG SNAPPER: Senior Drew Williams has handled both the short- and long-snapping duties in each of the past three seasons and figures to do so again in 2016. However, sophomore Nick McGriff had a few opportunities as well last season, enough so that he earned a letter. Redshirt freshman Logan Crane is the only other returning long snapper. Ben Asbury, a transfer from Berry College, Wyman Baxley, and Harrison Freeman are also on the roster as long snappers.
KICKOFF RETURN: The odds-on-favorite to handle the kick return duties this season is sophomore Rashad Fenton. Fenton returned 14 kicks as a true freshman for a 26.1-yard average. The highlight of his season came at LSU when he rambled 96 yards to paydirt. It was the first kick return for a touchdown for the Gamecocks since the 2002 season. Redshirt freshman A.J. Turner also got a look in the spring and has the explosiveness to make him a dangerous returner. A true freshman could emerge as a candidate for kick return duty as well.
PUNT RETURN: The Gamecocks will no longer be able to rely on the reliable hands of Pharoh Cooper in punt return situations. This important role is a little more wide open heading into the fall. Chris Lammons, Rashad Fenton and Deebo Samuel were all listed on the preseason depth chart as candidates for punt return duty. As is the case with kickoff returns, there may be a darkhorse candidate emerge during fall camp who could ultimately win the position.