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Lanning's season is one to remember

If you easily can recall every one of a kicker's misses from a season, you either have a photographic memory or the kicker had a great season.

South Carolina's Spencer Lanning falls into the second category.

In his first season with full-time field-goal duties, the junior from Rock Hill made 17 of 20 kicks.

The misses? A 27-yarder in the North Carolina State opener. A 50-yarder at Alabama. A 42-yarder against Clemson that was blocked.

That's it.

Lanning went from an unknown to a Lou Groza Award semifinalist, and he was the most special part of USC's special teams.

"I think the year couldn't have gone any better," Gamecocks special teams coordinator Shane Beamer said. "He made some clutch kicks in some pressure situations. He punted the ball well and had as good of a year as possible."

It did not seem as if he were destined for that kind of a season after the game against the Wolfpack.

Lanning had said throughout camp that he was confident he would carry on Ryan Succop's tradition of accurate, strong legs at USC.

Then came the 27-yard yank to the left against N.C. State.

"I thought I was ready. It just showed you I wasn't," he said, bringing up the miss before being asked about it. "I was sort of scared of missing that first kick. Sounds funny now, but I was."

What happened? Lanning said his mind ran wild in the moments before the kick. The result was a duck hook that never had the height or trajectory.

"It's weird to think about that first one and how bad I hit that first one and how bad I was," Lanning said. "I think it's a testament to how much you can improve over the course of the season."

Forget the next few months. Lanning got better immediately.

Before a kick, he would pick a spot in the crowd - maybe a hat or something, he said - and he would lock out the world around him.

"I just made kicking simpler," he said. "I was concentrating on so many different aspects, all this stuff that people basically remind you of. I just made it simple. I handled what I can handle."

The following week, at Georgia, Lanning made all five of his field-goal tries, from 21, 39, 22, 35 and 34 yards. Lanning extended his streak of conversions to 12 until the miss at Alabama.

By then, he was well on his way. And Raleigh was in the rear-view.

"It didn't bother him, and it didn't bother us," Beamer said of that first miss. "A lot of guys might've gone in the tank, but he just kind of shrugged it off. He was ready to kick the next one. We never lost confidence.

"We weren't concerned about Spence. He's got a great attitude, mind-set, confidence about him. He's not your stereotypical kicker. He's got a quiet confidence about him."

But just describing Lanning's kicking is selling him short. Just shy of 6 feet and 200 pounds, Lanning also proved to be a great tackler. His most memorable stop came when he tackled an Ole Miss punt returner in the open field, preventing a touchdown. He has three solo tackles this season.

After each game, Beamer said he was looking for a special teams player of the week.

"It just seemed like every single week Spencer stood out," Beamer said. "Whether it be his punting, his kicking, his game-saving tackle against Ole Miss. He was consistent. That's all you can ask from a kicker."

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