ATLANTA -- A couple of guys who grew up cheering for Clemson were thrown in the same dorm room their freshman year at South Carolina.
Now look at Spencer Lanning and C.D. Turner. They're among the Gamecocks' few fifth-year seniors. They went from walk-ons to scholarship players for the school, Lanning as the team's kicker and punter and Turner as its long snapper.
"When we came in, we just expected to be on the team," said Lanning, who is from Rock Hill and graduated from York High School. "We never expected to really play. I mean, I wasn't very good coming out of high school. That's the reason I didn't have any scholarship offers."
Yet, Lanning was even voted as one of South Carolina's four captains this season, a high and rare honor for a special teams player.
But that's just it when it comes to Lanning. He works out just as hard and just as often as any skill player on the team. He takes the just-a-kicker mold and shatters it.
"You see a lot of those kickers, and they don't really embrace the weight room," said USC special teams coordinator Shane Beamer. "They don't want to do the work. They see themselves as separate from the team. He's not that way. He wants to be one of the guys."
Being a captain would sure seem to indicate Lanning is above even one-of-the-guys status.
"Of all he's accomplished in his time here, that says more than anything," Beamer said. "There's no greater honor, in my opinion, than having the respect of your teammates. That shows and proves the respect his teammates have for him. I think it's a great honor."
Lanning started as USC's punter in 2008, averaging a respectable 42.1 yards a punt. He regressed slightly in 2009, averaging 41.9 yards a kick. But he's been far more consistent and effective in 2010, averaging 44.2 yards a punt -- fifth in a league with excellent punters.
Eighteen of his 52 punts were downed inside the 20. The most memorable was when he pinned Clemson at the half-yard line in a 29-7 victory over the Tigers.
No one was quite sure what to expect from Lanning when he replaced Ryan Succop in 2009. That feeling was only exaggerated when Lanning shanked a short field goal try in the season opener at North Carolina State.
But he settled in quickly to make 17 of 20 field goals last season. He hit 16 of 23 this season, including a stretch of nine in a row late in the season. Lanning was the SEC's special teams player of the week after the Clemson and Florida games in which he hit six of seven field goals, including several from longer than 40 yards.
The bad news: Friday's Chick-fil-A Bowl against Florida State marks the last game for Lanning and Turner, and the team's other seniors. That means the Gamecocks will be forced to replace those specialists.
Walker Inabinet, who snapped in Turner's place for the Troy game, will be a junior next season.
"I don't think people appreciate C.D. Turner enough," Beamer said. "That's harder to replace than people think."
Kicker Jay Wooten and punter Patrick Fish figure to be favorites to take over for Lanning, but there are no guarantees. And there aren't many Lannings around.
"He's a great, wonderful team player," USC's Steve Spurrier said Tuesday. "We're going to miss Spence. … Spencer Lanning has been a very solid player for us the past two or three years."
Lanning said he would "love to continue playing football," and will give the NFL a real shot -- but his future isn't limited to the game, by any stretch. Lanning has been on a medical school track, and the entrance exam would be the next step.
"I'd like to go to med school and I'd like to play in the NFL," he said. "Actually, I'd like to play in the NFL to pay for med school. How's that?"
Succop, in his second year with Kansas City Chiefs, has volunteered to work out with Lanning leading up to the draft and signing period.
First things first. Lanning and Turner, and the Gamecocks, have one more game. And they would like to win, tying the 1984 team for the most wins in a season in school history.
Lanning and Turner have helped, to be sure. Not bad for a couple of reformed Clemson fans.
"We wouldn't trade it for the world," Lanning said. "This means the world to us, to be here."
Notice about comments:
The Post and Courier is pleased to offer readers the enhanced ability to comment on stories. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point.