January 16, 2008

Rychleski's Hiring Gives Lanning Hope

Spencer Lanning has stood on the sidelines and watched Ryan Succop handle most of South Carolina's kicking chores the past two seasons.

He hopes the hiring of Ray Rychleski changes that.

Rychleski, USC's new special teams coordinator, wants to see a little variety in the Gamecocks' special teams. That means Succop likely won't do it all next season, despite the fact he's fairly effective in all three areas - kickoffs, punts and field goals.

Lanning knows it's his time to step up.

"I was excited (when I head about the coaching change)," Lanning said. "It gives me a little bit of hope I can get on the field. It's just a matter of getting out there and competing and just helping the team."

Lanning was one of the top punters in the Palmetto State as a senior in 2005 at York Comprehensive High School, averaging 41 yards per punt. He was an all-state selection by the Associated Press and Coaches' Association.

He kicked the game-winning 41-yard field goal to give the North an 11-10 victory in the annual North-South all-star game, claiming Offensive MVP honors.

But except for an extra point against S.C. State, Lanning didn't stepped on the field in his first two years with the Gamecocks. He served as the backup punter this past season to Succop, who averaged 41.6 yards in 56 punts this past season.

Succop also connected on 13 of 17 field goal attempts and averaged 64 yards on 60 kickoffs. Eleven reached the end zone for a touchback.

So, Rychleski's statement that he's not in favor of Succop handling all of the kicking chores anymore was music to Lanning's ears.

"It really hasn't been frustrating. It's been more of a just waiting my turn type of thing," Lanning said.

But, in major college football, nothing is handed to you. Lanning will likely be challenged by incoming freshman Ryan Doerr of Katy, TX, one of the top kickers in the Lone Star State.

"I just want to compete," Lanning said. "Sometimes I feel like Iım better than the competition, sometimes I feel like
the competition's better than me. I just want the opportunity to prove myself."

Lanning met Doerr for the first time when the Texan made an official visit to USC last weekend. Doerr is rated by Rivals.com as the 17th best kicker in the country.

Lanning admits the final stretch of the 2007 season was frustrating for USC's special teams units, as several breakdowns cost the Gamecocks dearly.

USC had three punts blocked in the final two games, one of which was recovered for a touchdown by Clemson. Lanning said he couldn't point to one thing, but contended a flaw in the protection scheme hurt the Gamecocks.

"It was a combination of things," Lanning said. "I personally donıt believe in luck. The formation we had had a lot of holes. In time, just watching tape, it sort of became obvious."

Rychleski used one basic punt formation in his seven years with Maryland. He employed gunners on both sides to help provide maximum protection for the punter. It's the same scheme Lanning's high school team ran, so he's comfortable with it.

With 2008 being Succop's final season, Lanning will battle Doerr, Nate Spurrier and walk-on Steve Huegel for the right to step onto the field in 2009 and beyond.

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