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Gamecock alum Elliott Fry reflects on long, strange trip to NFL debut

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Elliott Fry

Elliott Fry was signed by Atlanta on Oct. 1 and playing by Oct. 5. File/Atlanta Falcons

COLUMBIA — It was the same routine.

Elliott Fry has been doing this for a while, so he didn’t switch to anything special or demonstrative. He took his usual steps, lined up the kick the usual way and, as usual, converted.

So what if he was making his NFL debut, booting a 23-yard field goal on a cold and windy night on Green Bay’s hallowed Lambeau Field, his brand-new Atlanta Falcons helmet nestled on his head? And the game was beamed live around the country via “Monday Night Football?”

“It was one of the times when I was the most calm going into a game. Just one of those things you’ve waited for so long and it was finally here,” Fry said. “I didn’t think about it as nerves, I thought about it as, ‘I get to be here, get to be doing this. I get to play.’ ”

South Carolina’s career leader in points scored was relaxing as much as he could last week following the end of the NFL regular season. Like his football journey since he left USC following the 2016 season, it’s been hectic.

Fry was signed by the Falcons on Oct. 1 as a fallback option since starter Younghoe Koo was dealing with a groin injury. When it became apparent Koo was not going to be healthy for the Packers game on Oct. 5, Fry was bumped to the active roster and told he was going to play.

“We had to go in and basically sit there for two to three days of COVID testing. I did that, stayed in a hotel, woke up and had a workout with another kicker there,” Fry said. “Beat him out, and once I did that, they said, ‘Hey, you’re playing this game on ‘Monday Night Football.’ ”

Fry made his only field-goal attempt and one of two PATs, but Koo was healthy for the next game. Still, Fry was kept on the Falcons’ practice squad the rest of the season and has signed a futures contract, meaning he will be on the roster once offseason workouts begin in the spring.

"Having Elliott here, he's a guy that we've known for a long time," then-Falcons coach Dan Quinn said last year. "We've worked him out a number of times. Certainly had great connections during his time up at South Carolina. So, when we brought him in here, we had expectations that if he was called upon, we knew he was somebody who could deliver."

Since the season ended, Fry went to Texas to visit his family and will soon be returning to Mount Pleasant, where he recently bought a house. There he’ll have a chance to kick back (no pun intended), keep training and realize just what he’s been through to get here.

Besides being a record-holder, Fry played his USC career on one of the best teams in USC history and one of the worst. Famous before he ever played as a freshman due to his history — Fry is a Type 1 diabetic who has managed the disease and football since he was 7 years old — he became the Gamecocks’ starting kicker as a walk-on and promptly notched a 99-point season, the fourth-best in school history, as USC finished the last of three straight 11-win seasons in 2013.

He was placed on scholarship in January 2014 and started throughout an OK 2014 and a horrid 3-9 2015 as coach Steve Spurrier quit midseason. But Fry’s senior year in 2016 was the first season under coach Will Muschamp, and Fry had a memorable one by nailing a career-best 55-yard field goal to beat Vanderbilt in the season-opener. He passed Collin Mackie’s school record for points later that year.

From then, he wanted to try pro football but knew the odds were against him. Teams usually keep the same kicker for years, and most teams aren’t clamoring for them, even in a backup role.

But he got a tryout with Tampa Bay, and that started the bidding. Fry would have signed to play anywhere, but the teams that picked him worked him out and then cut him.

It looked like his first “real job,” financial advising in Atlanta, would be his calling until the phone rang. It was Spurrier, asking him if he’d like to come kick for his new football team, the Orlando Apollos of the Alliance of American Football.

He wasn't sure at first, but his interest was piqued, and by February 2019, Fry was having his blue-and-orange Apollos uniform fitted. He made all of his 14 field goal attempts, and the Apollos were in first place when the league went bankrupt (Spurrier claims a championship from the aborted season), but his pro career wasn’t nearly over.

The AAF sojourn caught the attention of the Chicago Bears, who signed Fry to a three-year deal. He was cut in August 2019, signed by Baltimore, cut by Baltimore, then signed by Carolina.

He participated in offseason workouts with the Panthers but was released in May, where the Buccaneers were again waiting. He went through the entire training camp thinking he was the guy, then was released two weeks before the first game (ironically, the Bucs cut him to make room for Ryan Succop, another former Gamecock).

“I was waiting for a call, and I hate to say it, but you’re kind of waiting for someone to get hurt,” Fry said. “Then when Younghoo went down, the Falcons called.”

He’s caught up with his correspondence while holding down his day job as a practice-squad player, keeping up a joking feud with current USC kicker Parker White. White announced he’s returning to USC next season, which puts him right in line to break Fry’s scoring record and thus place his name over Fry’s on a stadium ramp.

“We’ve been giving each other crap for a while about that,” Fry said. “I told him he’ll have to put an asterisk on it since he got an extra year, but nah, it’s cool anytime anyone’s ready to break a record like that.”

Fry is set to report to Atlanta in April and is cautious about how it may go. The Falcons will have a new head coach, so it may be a situation where he has to work out, then wait and see.

Nothing he isn’t used to. It’s all routine.

Follow David Cloninger on Twitter @DCPandC.

From Rock Hill, S.C., David Cloninger covers Gamecock sports. He will not rest until he owns every great film and song ever recorded.

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