Seventy-nine seconds into South Carolina’s first game, placekicker Elliott Fry ran onto the field at Williams-Brice Stadium to attempt the first PAT of his collegiate career.
The walk-on from Frisco, Texas, capably split the uprights to become the first true freshman to kick in USC’s season opener since Courtney Leavitt in 1996.
“I was shaking a little on the first extra point,” Fry said. “But there’s really no time to be nervous because it happens so quick. After that, I felt pretty comfortable.”
It’s hard to argue with that. Fry also converted two more extra points and made a pair of field goals from 39 and 26 yards in USC’s 27-10 win against North Carolina. His perfect night enforced the decision by USC coaches to give Fry the opportunity to kick for the first time in front of 81,572 fans and a national television audience.
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“You hope you don’t have to do that, but if the situation arises, it’s a tremendous tribute to Elliott that he goes out there and handles that situation the way he did,” USC special teams coordinator Joe Robinson said. “It didn’t seem to be an issue. He seemed like the same guy that he is every day. He’s got some mental toughness inside of him.”
Fry won the starting job after a spirited battle in August camp with Landon Ard and Nick St. Germain. The competition was close, but Fry came out on top because of his ability to get the ball over the hands of rushing linemen.
“The one thing Elliott has is a trajectory on the football that you’re looking for,” Robinson said. “He gets it up very, very quickly. Most of the people try to block kicks these days, and there’s a real premium placed on being able to lift the ball. That seems to be the gift he has.”
Fry said he knew there would be no guarantees as a walk-on at USC.
“Personally, I thought I had the potential (to start),” he said. “I thought it was going to be a hard summer, but I definitely thought it was possible.”
He also wanted to play at college football’s top level, so he turned down a scholarship offer from Louisiana Tech after making a trip to USC.
“When I came for my visit, I fell in love with the campus. I really liked it,” Fry said. “I liked all the people. I liked the staff. You can’t really beat the SEC.”
Fry said understands that he must keep making kicks – some longer – to hold the job, a motion Robinson seconds.
“Game-time situations are always different with a live snap and hold. Wherever they want me to kick it from, I’ll kick it,” he said.
Robinson said it’s hard to replicate a high-pressure kick in practices, although the coaches try to do that. He said the Gamecocks will learn more about their young kicker if he has to make a 45-yarder late in a tie game against Georgia this weekend.
“The only indicator I can point to is what he did (last) Thursday,” Robinson said. “The way he handled his first opportunity would lead you to believe he has some of the makeup and some of the skills to go out there and handle that situation.”
For now, Fry might be more famous for being the skinniest player on the team – he’s listed at 150 pounds but says he worked to get up to 160 this summer – and Steve Spurrier has joked about putting more weight on him.
He also gained some television and Internet attention for the second “a” being left off his jersey that read “CAROLIN” last week.
“I was happy. I’m a freshman getting air time on TV,” Fry said. “It wasn’t for anything I did wrong. It was just the jersey. It would have been worse if I missed a kick.”