At about the midpoint of the season, Steve Spurrier said at one of his weekly news conferences that he thought South Carolina might lead the country in kicking the ball out of bounds on kickoffs.
There is no official NCAA stat for that category but he might not have been far off. The Gamecocks had six such occurrences at that time but senior kicker Adam Yates has turned in the best stretch of his career since then. Not only was he consistent on field goals and extra points, he improved his placement and distance on kickoffs.
Against Clemson, Yates kicked five of six into the end zone to offset the Tigers’ dangerous return men. He also added two field goals in the defining game of his career.
“Things have really started coming together at the end of the season,” Yates said. “I feel like I can pretty much kick it where I want to. I couldn’t ask for a better way for my career to come to a close.”
Yates and South Carolina have one final challenge against Michigan in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1. The former soccer player from Sparks, Md., was all smiles when looking back at a career that he never envisioned having while growing up. He never played football until his senior season in high school.
At USC, he redshirted in 2008 before serving as the kickoff specialist in 2009, when he kicked off 49 times with an average distanceof 61.8 yards and one touchback. The next two seasons, Yates didn’t appear in a game.
Coming into this season, it was uncertain who would handle the kicking duties. After fending off a couple of challengers in the preseason, Yates earned the kickoff and extra point/field goal kicker duties and improved as the season wore on.
“In soccer, you can have all different types of shots and it will work out,” Yates said. “On field goals and extra points and even kickoffs to some extent, you want the same kick every time. The hardest thing I had to learn was the consistency. At the end of my freshman year, I started feeling more comfortable with it, and it’s gotten better every season. I never got frustrated. I just continued to work hard and things couldn’t have worked out any better.”
Yates is 11-for-15 on field goals with a long of 51. He is perfect on 46 extra-point attempts and is the team’s leading scorer with 79 points. In 56 kickoffs, Yates had 31 touchbacks this season and averaged 62.7 yards per kick. It helped that the NCAA changed the kickoff position by five yards since his freshman season but Yates still liked the consistency he showed.
He said the only drawbacks were the two field goals he had blocked and the five kickoffs out of bounds.
“I wasn’t perfect, that’s for sure,” Yates joked. “Coach (Joe) Robinson really trusted me and wouldn’t allow me to get down on myself. I learned a lot over time but this year made things seem extra special.”
Robinson, in his first year with the Gamecocks, had no idea who would win the kicking job in the early fall but feels like the coaching staff made the correct decision.
“I will be honest with you and tell you it was wide open going into the season,” Robinson said. “The thing that I liked about Yates is he wouldn’t let one kick carry over to the next kick. If he did something wrong, he flushed it and moved on to the next kick. That’s the best trait of a successful kicker.”
The one thing Yates has yet to do is kick a game-winning field goal, even though his 36-yard field goal with 10 minutes remaining proved the winning margin against Tennessee. He feels comfortable from 60 yards or less but he could end his career without having that type of pressure and be fine with it.
“I told Marcus (Lattimore) and Connor (Shaw) at the beginning of the year that I would rather kick extra points anyway,” Yates said. “If they want me to kick extra points instead of field goals, I’m all right with it.”