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July 14, 2011

Walk-on kicker joins team



Everybody knows about the big South Pointe High School star currently on campus as a South Carolina freshman, and probably knows about the Stallion teammate that came with him.

Add another one to the stable.

Kicker Landon Ard is enrolled at USC for the Summer II session, just like his past and future teammates Jadeveon Clowney and Gerald Dixon. The former Stallions kicker accepted an invite as a preferred walk-on for the Gamecocks, and decided to get a head start on college life with an early enrollment.

"I'm actually down here right now," Ard said on Wednesday. "I like it a lot. I'm having a good time, working hard, but I like it so far."

Ard is allowed to work out with the football team in summer conditioning, but can't officially join the team for preseason camp until school begins (Aug. 18). Still, he's going to get a chance and try to make the most of it, drawing inspiration from another former Rock Hill walk-on kicker.

"I've definitely talked to Spencer Lanning," Ard said. "Guess you could kind of say I'm kind of looking up to him. He was in this position at one time."

Lanning, one of four team captains last season, also walked on at USC after an all-star career at York Comprehensive High School. He stuck through it to earn playing time, then a scholarship, then double duty as a place-kicker and punter for his final two seasons.

Ard, watching from an hour up the road, noticed and talked with Lanning as each's senior year was about to conclude. Lanning advised him that being at USC, even as a walk-on, could work out; Ard had a few offers from small Division I and Division II schools but decided to come to Columbia.

Averaging around 45 yards per punt and converting 7-of-11 field goals as a senior, Ard got his name into the semi-spotlight with his kickoffs. During the Stallions' first game last year, Ard dropped seven of nine kickoff attempts into the far reaches of the end zone - the last one had the returner looking over his head at the 5-yard-line and futilely shrugging as he jogged off the field.

During an ESPN-televised game against Northwestern, Ard booted a kickoff through the uprights and halfway across the roof of the locker room behind it. It got to be so boring as a South Pointe kickoff cover man that Ard would often race ahead of his coverage, looking for somebody to block so he could get into that part of the game (he was a part-time defensive back as well).

The Gamecocks, already looking at Clowney and Dixon plus other recruits in the area, noticed Ard but couldn't offer him a scholarship. They did show enough interest to where Ard decided to turn down paying rides to college for the unheralded life of a squad member.

It won't be easy, especially this year. Ard can't practice with the team until Aug. 18, then has to go through the three days of shorts/helmets to shells before he can wear his full practice uniform. He's using the time to condition with his future teammates in the mornings and begin to handle his academic work, while keeping an eye on his goal.

"I talked to (special teams coach John) Butler, and he told me there's a couple of older guys, seniors, and I just have to earn everything I can," Ard said.

Jay Wooten has one year of eligibility and is expected to start at place-kicker and on kickoffs. Redshirt freshman Patrick Fish was the listed starting punter after spring practice. Adam Yates, Joey Scribner-Howard and Eric Davis are veterans.

But Ard has an example to follow, and plans to. It may not be immediately, but if Lanning could do it, Ard figures he can as well.

"I'm super excited," Ard said. "Thankful to be down here for sure."


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