COLUMBIA -- John Butler believes in the power of positive reinforcement.
No yelling, "You stink!"
No screaming, "You show me nothing!" when one of the South Carolina Gamecocks misses a field goal in practice.
Players don't have to run punishment laps down Bluff Road to snag Bojangles biscuits for the coaching staff.
"I'm a very positive guy with the specialists, even if they're struggling," Butler said.
It's working. Butler, the Gamecocks' first-year special teams coordinator, is pleased with the place-kicking progress of senior Jay Wooten, the former walk-on penciled in to replace two-year starter Spencer Lanning.
"(Butler) really does emphasize (a positive approach), and I think that is a great thing and a good aspect," said Wooten, a 6-3, 203-pound resident of Laurinburg, N.C. "In the kicking game, you're going to have your ups and downs. Staying positive is definitely an important aspect."
True, practice is a noble concept.
Scrimmages have their place.
But positive preparation for an opener against East Carolina in the Carolina Panthers' NFL stadium, followed by a Southeastern Conference opener at Georgia, requires extra pressure techniques.
Georgia fight song music should blare whenever Wooten lines up a field goal try.
A bunch of cute little bulldogs should be hired to bark at his extra-point attempts.
A boot camp, pardon the pun.
'Not the same'
Positive feedback is nice. But Butler is not positive that Wooten will excel during the 2011 season.
"I'm not going to know until he's in the stadium," Butler said, nodding at Williams-Brice Stadium across Bluff Road from South Carolina's practice field, "and in other stadiums. I want to see how all these guys react in game situations. Other than Jay kicking off, nobody's done it in the game."
Wooten handled most of the kickoff duties all last season.
Patrick Fish and Joey Scribner-Howard are competing to take over for Lanning at punter. They are progressing, by most accounts.
But punters require less TLC and distraction tools than, say, a kicker who might be assigned to win overtime games in Starkville, Knoxville and Fayetteville.
Wooten must fill the void left by a kicker successful on 17 of 24 field goal attempts in 2011, including 12 of his last 15.
Lanning, in South Carolina's 36-14 victory at Florida that clinched the SEC title, made field goals of 49, 47 and 41 yards (and missed an extra point) to give the Gamecocks a 15-7 halftime lead.
Wooten was given South Carolina's second-to-last available scholarship earlier this month. He made two 41-yard field goals and one from 42 yards (and missed from 42) in a stadium scrimmage last Wednesday night. He drilled a 48-yard field goal in a drill prior to a stadium scrimmage Saturday.
"Sometimes I try to add a little pressure just because, obviously, kicking out here with your teammates is not the same as being out here with 80,000 screaming fans," Wooten said.
Between The Hedges
That's why Steve Spurrier got into the act a few weeks ago. As Wooten was lining up a 40-yard attempt, the Gamecocks' head coach shouted, "Scholarship kick!"
It was good.
So why not …
Coeds dressed in purple and gold East Carolina Pirates gear and screaming at close range?
Personal insults directed Wooten's way.
Anything to paint a more accurate picture of looming Athens hostility.
"Hopefully, it's the same as always," Wooten said when asked about his scheduled visit to Georgia. "Hopefully, I'm kicking the same as I always do: same swing, same form. I try to take that approach to it every day and be consistent."
Wooten said he is grateful for the "awesome opportunity" to contribute to one of the nation's best college football teams.
Now if we can just turn up the heat a little as the real games get closer.
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