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New assistant hopes to have special impact

Any fears that South Carolina’s special teams would be an afterthought this spring were answered last weekend in a loud voice by a large, bald man with an accent indicating he is not from around these parts.

When an injury left one of the Gamecocks’ special-team units short a man in their first spring scrimmage, Ray Rychleski could be heard throughout Williams-Brice Stadium giving trainer Bill Martin a hard time for not telling him about the injured player.

Later in the scrimmage Rychleski took one of the officials to task for not spotting the ball correctly before a Gamecocks’ punt.

“That got us all out of whack a little bit for the punt, and that’s the one we get blocked. So they’ve got to get their butt in there,” Rychleski said. “I know it’s spring practice, so it’s a good thing to learn from. That’s the biggest thing. I was only teasing, yelling at Bill.

“But the point was everybody has a role to do. And when everybody does their job, great things can happen.”

Rychleski’s job is to improve a special teams corps that suffered several breakdowns late last season, including three blocked punts the last two games. USC coach Steve Spurrier plucked the 50-year-old Rychleski from Maryland to coordinate the Gamecocks’ special teams. Spurrier met Rychleski in 2001, before Spurrier’s Florida squad played Maryland in the Orange Bowl, and knew the Terps had sound special teams.

During Rychleski’s seven years at Maryland, the Terps did not have a punt blocked, the longest current streak in Division I-A.

Spurrier called Rychleski, who grew up in Pennsylvania, the most organized special teams coach he has worked with.

“Every year we say we’re emphasizing it. I think now obviously you can tell we’re spending more time with it. It looks like we know what we’re doing,” Spurrier said. “Hopefully, that will pay dividends for us.”

The Gamecocks devote 15 minutes before stretching and 10 minutes during practice to special teams. Rychleski (pronounced “rich-LESS-key”) uses every second of those drills, and has little patience for players — or trainers and officials — who cut into that time.

“He’s ready to get out here and work hard. He’ll get on you if you’re not where you’re supposed to be or doing what you’re supposed to do,” kicker Ryan Succop said. “But I think it’s a good thing and will be good for the team.”

“You want to get a lot of reps in a short amount of time, so you can get repetition, coach off the tape and get better,” Rychleski added.

Rychleski coaches all of the Gamecocks’ special teams, but has directed much of his energy toward the punt team. He said it was like a “double-edged sword” last weekend when Larry Freeman blocked Spencer Lanning’s punt: “I was down on the punt team, but I was excited that Larry Freeman blocked it.”

Likewise, Spurrier is encouraged by Rychleski’s work this spring. Spurrier likes that his new coach is developing a second group of special-teamers in the event one of the starters goes down.

Rychleski said he is just being efficient.

“We’re paid very good money here to do what we’re supposed to do. It’s not like the NFL. You don’t have all day with these guys. You’ve only got X amount of time,” Rychleski said. “You’ve got to try to get as much as you can out of that as fast as you can.”

Reach Person at (803) 771-8496.