Steve Spurrier opened the door a little more for Nick St. Germain on Tuesday night.
Commenting to the crowd attending Fan Fest in Charlotte, Spurrier contended South Carolina's kickoff job remained wide open less than three months from the start of pre-season camp.
For St. Germain, the first recruited scholarship placekicker signed by USC since Ryan Succop in 2005, opportunity beckons.
Along with defensive tackle Darius English (described by St. Germain as an "animal"), St. Germain's presence gives McEachern High in Powder Springs, Ga., a total of four graduates on the USC roster in 2012. Tight end Rory Anderson and injured spur linebacker Marcquis Roberts signed with USC a year ago.
"They like everything about playing for Carolina," St. Germain said. "They told me it's a lot faster and if you're not ready it will give you a wake-up call. They told me they really enjoy Columbia, the coaches and the fan support. They've told me it's an unbelievable place to play. Everything they told me about the school was positive. Nothing negative."
St. Germain will be roommates with English, the Class 5A Defensive Player of the Year last season in the state of Georgia.
"We're both going to come in and just try to earn the respect of the coaches and players," St. Germain said. "Darius has unbelievable talent and ability."
When St. Germain first began talking with USC, John Butler was the special teams coach. But he departed for Penn State. By mid-January, St. Germain was dealing with Joe Robinson.
"We've talked a good amount," St. Germain said. "It was pretty much just to stay in contact. I called him often in the spring to see how practice was going and how things were looking. Being in Atlanta, it's tough just to drive there for a practice."
St. Germain didn't waver on his verbal commitment to USC (he gave his pledge on Jan. 4) after Butler left, even though he didn't know who would be the next special teams coach for a short period of time.
However, that didn't stop other schools from continuing to pursue him.
"As I told other recruiting coaches, once I was committed, that was it. It didn't matter what happened," St. Germain said. "That's why I took so long to commit. Once I did, that was my word. I feel that's how it should be. If you're going to commit, you shouldn't play games. Unless there's a valid reason, you should stick with one school."
St. Germain made unofficial visits to the Florida and Clemson games last season. Did attending those sold-out games get him thinking about kicking a game-winning field goal in front of 80,000 fans?
"I don't really look at it as a lot of people are watching," St. Germain said. "You have to go out there and view it as just another kick and it just happens to be for the win. If you put too much pressure on yourself, you'll mentally mess yourself up and that's not good."
St. Germain connected on 11-of-17 field goals as a senior at McEachern High with a long of 49 yards, His career-best was 54 yards. He often showed off his powerful right leg on kickoffs, frequently booming the ball through the end zone, by averaging 68 yards per boot.
St. Germain credits playing soccer for developing his kicking prowess.
"Playing soccer helped me gain a lot of power," St. Germain said. "We do explosive training where we work on hip flexors and fast-twitch muscle fibers and work on the speed of the foot. You don't really have to be big to be a kicker, as you can tell from the NFL. It's all foot speed. That's what we train for. I have a trainer that has shown me just about everything I know. I've taken the drills he's shown me and applied them to the max."
With kickoffs in college football moving out to the 35-yard line, St. Germain could become an important weapon in USC's desire to pin opponents back inside the 25-yard line.
"I've just been working, practicing and trying to adapt to the change from high school to college," St. Germain said. "The game is faster, school is different, being able to be on your own and just about everything in general associated with college football.
"I've been working on my kickoffs. My goal is to try to get as kickoffs into the end zone as possible. If there's a head wind, I can get it up into the air and let the coverage team get down there and stop them inside the 20-yard line."
USC attempted a SEC-low 11 field goals in 2011 (tying Ole Miss) with Jay Wooten connecting on seven, including 5-for-8 from beyond 40 yards. But he missed a chip shot field goal in the Capital One Bowl against Nebraska.
Wooten also averaged 60.9 yards per kickoff, the lowest figure in the SEC. In fact, every other conference school averaged at least 62.5 yards per kickoff. Just six of Wooten's 71 kickoffs resulted in touchbacks.
"Nothing has been given to me yet. I still have to show up and work and show them I'm capable of doing what they're expecting," St. Germain said. "Right now, Adam Yates is the guy. So, if I don't beat him out I'm just going to keep working until my time to play comes. No one has told me anything."
With Succop now kicking for the Kansas City Chiefs, St. Germain recognizes USC's recent tradition of producing quality kickers.
"He's a great kicker," St. Germain said. "Hopefully, I'll get a chance to meet him over the next four years."
St. Germain was offered by Georgia Tech and several mid-tier schools such as Middle Tennessee State, South Alabama and Georgia Southern. But playing for the Gamecocks intrigued him the most.
"Coach Spurrier is one of the best coaches in all of college football," St. Germain said. "Our school already had players there at USC. Ever since I started kicking in the ninth grade, my goal was to play in the SEC. It's big-time football. Everything about it is perfect. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else."
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