The Daily Gamecock

Spurrier hopes for improvement on special teams


With so much up in the air at the start of the 2015 college football season, not much is certain regarding South Carolina’s starting lineup.

“Most of the time when you have returning players it’s not that big a deal,” head coach Steve Spurrier said. “We know how this guy played last year or the year before that, we just have so many unknown players,”

With so much uncertainty, it is hard for fans to feel comfortable heading into the season. Aside from the multitude of unknowns, there are some certainties that one can expect to see when Gamecock football kicks off on Thursday night.

Here’s everything you need to know about the least heralded unit, South Carolina’s special teams.

Elliott Fry

In both college football and the NFL, about one-third of all scoring is accomplished by special teams. The heaviest of this responsibility most often falling to the kicker.

In keeping with this statistic, placekicker Elliott Fry scored 105 out of the 424 points put on the board by the Gamecocks in the 2014 season, the third-highest single-season total in South Carolina’s history.

Having so much impact on the outcome of a game, it’s no wonder Fry has become a fan favorite at South Carolina. Three games in 2014, including two conference games, were won by a margin of three points thanks to Fry’s successful field goals.

So, it’s not totally illogical for Gamecock fans to assume they have the best kicker —  or at least one of the best kickers — in the conference. However, let’s not forget about the defense that allows Fry to do his job every game.

As a walk-on in 2013, Fry is entering his junior year at South Carolina. While Gamecock fans everywhere are cherishing these last two seasons with Fry as their starter, there will be a lookout for some new talent to fill his shoes, however big they might be.   

Return Game

Wide receiver Pharoh Cooper retains his spot in special teams this season in punt return. The Gamecocks lagged in yards on punt returns last year, returning only 20 punts for 100 yards, 75 of which belonged to Cooper.

Kickoff return this year will feature true freshman A.J. Turner, redshirt senior Shon Carson and redshirt freshman Deebo Samuel.

“Let’s hope our special teams do better than last year,” Spurrier said. “We were not very good at covering kickoffs. We didn’t have a return last year, but Pharoh’s back there. If we can give him some blocking and hold up, certainly he can get a chance to run it. Kickoff return right now, we’ve got Deebo Samuels back there, Shon Carson and freshman A.J. Turner. So hopefully we can give those guys some room to go.”

Sean Kelly

Let’s not forget about the punter. Playing quarterback, punter and kicker at West Orange High School in Winter Garden, Florida, Sean Kelly began his college football career punting at Florida Atlantic University where he played for two years.

During his time at FAU, Kelly was ranked third in CUSA and 36th in the NCAA standings for average yards per punt. He was also named Special Teams MVP at FAU.

Kelly now joins the Gamecocks and the SEC as a redshirt junior, after spending a year at Tallahassee Junior College, where he did not play football. Being the only punter to go through spring drills, Kelly will replace Tyler Hull as the starting punter for this season.

While South Carolina seems to have their act together right now regarding special teams, the Gamecocks will have their work cut out for them this Thursday as they take on North Carolina in their season opener.

“I know North Carolina has excellent punt return guys, and they’re very good on kickoff returns also, so we’ve certainly emphasized covering punts,” Spurrier said.