Succop USC's three-headed kicker

South Carolina kicker Ryan Succop, right, celebrates a 49-yard field goal against Auburn last season.
South Carolina kicker Ryan Succop, right, celebrates a 49-yard field goal against Auburn last season.

COLUMBIA -- South Carolina coaches started last season hoping to take some of the load off Ryan Succop, the Gamecocks' place-kicker/punter/kickoff specialist.

A year later, they have abandoned the idea -- which isn't surprising, considering the success Succop enjoyed.

"We don't have anybody that can beat Ryan out right now," USC special teams co-coordinator Fred Chatham said this week. "He's going to have to (do all three)."

The SEC media last week picked Succop as the first-team kicker and second-team punter on the all-conference preseason team -- a nod to Succop's performance in 2006, when he connected on 16-of-20 field-goal attempts and averaged 43.6 yards a punt in his first season as a starter.

While USC coach Steve Spurrier recently called Succop one of the top kickers in the nation, Succop believes he can do better.

"There's always room for improvement," said Succop, a junior from Hickory, N.C. "I can become even more accurate on field goals, have better hang time (and) more distance on my punts (and) put more kickoffs in the end zone."

The last objective will be more challenging this season due to a rule change that pushes kickoffs back five yards to the 30-yard line. Although Succop banged 40 percent of his kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks in '06, Chatham said the Gamecocks would take a different approach this season.

"I don't think we can do that now," he said. "We're going to have to move the ball around. We're going to have to pop some balls up, and we're going to have to put some of our first-team guys on the kickoff team."

The 6-foot-2, 213-pound Succop agreed that reaching the end zone is going to be more of a challenge.

"We're still going to try to hit as many touchbacks as we can. Obviously, it will make a little bit of a difference," Succop said. "Those guys will return them if you hit them four, five yards deep. So you're really going to have to hit the ball."

Chatham is concerned about putting too much stress on the right leg of Succop, a former soccer player who was not a punter in high school. Succop's punting average dipped last year as the season progressed, although he would have ranked third in the SEC if he had enough punts to qualify.

"The wear and tear comes during practice. It's cumulative. You go through two-a-days and you go through the offseason," Chatham said. "Ryan's a worker. So even though we weren't punting a lot toward the end, he's still got to go out and work on it just like we're going to punt eight or 10 times. He doesn't know that. So we've got to be careful."

Succop's backup at each position is former York Comprehensive High School star Spencer Lanning, who redshirted 2006 in his first year on the team. Lanning should remain the backup this year, able to travel and dress with the team but likely not seeing much playing time.

Succop said it was difficult to get in a rhythm punting toward the end of last season, when the Gamecocks often asked Succop to use a rugby style -- roll to his right and hit low-trajectory, end-over-end punts that guarded against a return but cost Succop distance.

USC also tweaked the set-up for placements after Florida blocked three of Succop's kicks in the Gators' 17-16 victory. After the Florida loss, the Gamecocks set up a half-yard deeper, allowing Succop to kick 7.5 yards behind the line of scrimmage.

"I feel like it helped. But I think we'd be fine doing it at seven (yards)," Succop said. "We didn't have any other kicks blocked all year."

Succop finished with 85 points last season, the third-highest single-season total in school history. If Succop strings together another strong season or two, he figures to be an attractive NFL prospect -- be it as a punter or kicker.

"I haven't thought too much about that. I guess we'll just kind of cross that bridge when we get there," he said. "I'm just focused on having a good year and trying to do the best we can."