It was Nov. 22, 2015. The game was tied 14-14 with three seconds remaining. The potential game-winning kick was going to be put down on the right hashmark 41 yards from the goal post, and Elliott Fry was as nervous as he could be.
Fry wasn’t taking the kick. South Carolina’s place-kicker was sitting in a Columbia restaurant watching the game. If he’d been taking the kick, he would have been fine but watching friend Michael Geiger of Michigan State line up for the potential game-winner against Ohio State, he could barely stay in his seat.
“It’s a lot more nerve-wracking from the other side, watching it on TV from the viewer’s perspective because they’re thinking, ‘Oh, what about this? What about that? What are all the implications of it?’ ” Fry said. “When you’re out on the field, it goes by so fast, you really don’t have time to think about it. You’re taking in all the information. There is not a lot of thinking about it.”
Geiger made the kick to the give the Spartans a 17-14 upset win over the Buckeyes. That’s the highest of highs for a kicker, but college football has seen plenty of the other side of the coin this season. In fact, kicking has been such an adventure in the FBS this year that it has its own social media hashtag (#collegekickers).
Meanwhile, Fry has been his usual stalwart self through eight games. The 6-foot, 170-pound senior from Frisco, Texas, hit a 55-yard game-winner against Vanderbilt in the season opener and is 8-for-11 on field goals this season. He enters Saturday’s game against Missouri just two points away from the school’s all-time scoring record.
With one field goal or two extra points, Fry will surpass Collin Mackie’s 26-year-old Gamecocks record of 330 career points.
“I have been thinking about (the record) a lot lately,” Fry conceded this week.
Mostly, he’s thought it won’t last nearly as long as Mackie’s record.
“The more that I think about it, it’s probably going to get broken four years after I leave,” he said. “We have a pretty good freshman kicker in Alex Woznick. He will have four years with a progressive team that’s going to be really good for the next four years. It’s probably going to get broken. It’s definitely awesome to be able to break it, but at the end of the day, it’s just a record.”
Fry, a former walk-on, has hit 61-of-82 field goal attempts in his career, and he has never missed from less than 30 yards. He has made 146 of his 147 career extra point attempts.
“We have a ton of confidence in Elliott,” tight end Hayden Hurst said. “I just kind of assume he’s going to make every kick when he goes out there.”
That hasn’t been the case across the country this year. Going back to Mississippi State’s Westin Graves clanking a 28-yard attempt off an upright as time expired in a 21-20 loss to South Alabama in the first week of the season to N.C. State kicker Kyle Bambard missing a 33-yarder that preserved Clemson’s undefeated season, the 2016 season has been filled with moments place-kickers would rather forget.
“It’s not easy being a college kicker,” Fry said. “You’re either the hero or the goat. You are going to miss a big kick in your career. It’s something that happens, and it’s something you have to deal with.”
South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp has noticed that it’s something he doesn’t have to worry about.
“I have a huge confidence level with Elliott,” Muschamp said. “I go into pregame and I ask Elliott, 'Where do you feel good from?' And he says, ‘Going into the tunnel, I feel good at the 35, going this way, I feel good from the 38.’ So I know right then. I don't even worry about it anymore. There's no discussion about it anymore on the headsets, just that's where we are.”
Fry is fourth in the SEC this season with a 72.7 percent success rate.
“It's a luxury that you don't always have,” Muschamp said. “I've been in that other situation where you're worried about whether you can get it through the uprights for an extra point.”
Fry is considering donating the ball that breaks the record to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund. A Type 1 diabetic who takes as many as 10 shots on game day to make sure his condition doesn’t affect his kicking, Fry has been active in Columbia’s diabetes community since arriving on campus.
“I have gotten a lot of Facebook messages from moms and dads saying, ‘We are watching you and seeing you succeed at South Carolina despite having diabetes,’ ” Fry said. “I have met with a lot of them and talked to their kids and tried to keep their spirits high, especially when they are first diagnosed because that is a pretty difficult time. Just encouraging them, telling them, ‘You can do whatever you want even though you have diabetes.’ ”
Fry attempted to donate his kicking shoe from a game-winner against Missouri in 2013 to the JDRF but the NCAA wouldn’t allow it, he said. He won’t have to worry about collegiate eligibility rules much longer, though, which would give him the freedom to donate his soon-to-be-famous kicking ball.
When Fry’s Gamecocks career is over, he will pursue a job in the NFL, he said.
“If it doesn’t work out, I’ll find a job,” he said. “I haven’t thought too much about (what type of job). I’m focused on the NFL and if that doesn’t work out I’ll come back and finish up my degree.”
USC kicker Elliott Fry is two points shy of breaking the school’s scoring record:
1. Collin Mackie
2. Elliott Fry
3. Ryan Succop
4. Marcus Lattimore
5. George Rogers
6. Reed Morton
7. Harold Green
8. Scott Hagler
T9. Mark Fleetwood
T9. Dan Weaver