This week, Garnet Report’s Avery Wilks and Rixon Lane take turns winding back the clock to relive a few captivating scenes from the 2012 season. Without further ado, Avery Wilks presents Adam Yates’ journey – a story of doubt, perseverance, and identity.
Adam Yates sat cross-armed on an aluminum bench on the Williams-Brice Stadium sideline, wearing a size-13 linebacker cleat on his left foot and a black size-10 UnderArmour soccer cleat with garnet laces on his right, his eyes following a football that leaped off of a freshman’s right foot and fluttered wide of the goal post.
The kick was the last play of USC’s first fall practice – a public scrimmage in the swampy mid-August Columbia heat – but Adam had watched from the sidelines since he was pulled after making every kick he took in the first half, including a 52-yarder.
Still, another successful day of practice had failed to answer the question nagging at the consciousness of the 6’1,” 196-pound redshirt senior from Sparks, Md., whose decision to walk-on at South Carolina came only after an offer from Notre Dame fell through. Coming into his fifth and final fall practice, why had the coaches still not entrusted him with a scholarship?
“Do you know why you haven’t been starting the last two years?” He could still hear new special teams coach Joe Robinson asking, a few days after his arrival at South Carolina for the spring of 2012.
“Honestly, no.” Adam replied, wondering if his newest coach would be the first to explain why he hadn’t seen the field since handling the majority of the kickoff duties during his redshirt freshman year.
“The reason you haven’t been playing is because of the kick you missed in your freshman spring game,” Robinson said. The coach explained that the staff had recognized Adam’s talents all along, but they were not sure after that spring game if he could handle kicking on the big stage.
“Do you think you have a hard time in pressure situations?” Robinson asked.
“Not at all,” Adam replied. “I wasn’t feeling pressure that day. I was just a rookie kicker.”
“Okay then,” Robinson had said. “Then I’m going to believe in you.”
Robinson’s encouragement had been enough for Adam to dedicate himself to a new regimen of workouts over the summer before his final season – an extra hour or two of his own conditioning drills on top of every two-and-a-half hour practice, followed by another hour every other day kicking balls out on the practice field in the shadow of Williams-Brice Stadium.
Now, thirty pounds lighter and a summer stronger, Adam was still unsure of his future even as he sat on that bench at the end of the first fall practice. If the coaches weren’t willing to grant him a scholarship for the season, would it even be worth it to stick around another year?
Watching his teammates out on the practice field, he realized anew the camaraderie he expected to come with joining the team hadn’t been there for him. The thrill of walking-on to the team his freshman year had certainly soured in the four years since, and he could not help but feel like an outsider amongst the scholarship players, rather than a teammate.
After all, his parents had to break out the checkbook for tuition, and Adam swiped his Carolina Card to pay for his food at Russell House – where all the average students ate – while the rest of the guys he played with ate for free and palled around at the Dodie, a state-of-the-art academic enrichment center built for athletes.
Most of the guys Adam watched that day at practice got to live together in the Quads – suite-style dorms complete with a living room, kitchen, and private bedrooms and bathrooms. Adam lived a few blocks away in a windowless 177-square foot room he shared with a non-athlete in Bates House, a dorm built in 1969. He remembered the thoughts of transferring plaguing him all those seasons he’d watched kickers from other schools with lesser talent warm up before games. Had it really been worth it to wait his turn until names like Lanning and Wooten cleared the depth chart?
The doubts floating in his head scattered as he saw Spurrier motioning to him from the field.
“Alright first team, get out here,” Spurrier’s voice rang out as he ushered Adam off the bench to re-take the kick the freshman had just missed. The Head Ball Coach never liked ending practice on a missed kick.
Peeved at having to come off the bench and finish the practice after his legs had gone stiff, Adam trotted out toward his head coach in the middle of the field. As Adam approached the head coach in between the hashmarks of a sea of green Bermuda grass, Spurrier called in all the guys from both sidelines to crowd around the senior kicker.
“Alright, what we got here is, if you make this kick, you’re gonna be on full ride,” Spurrier said, his eyes cutting into Adam’s. “If not, you’re outta luck. This is a thirty-thousand dollar kick. I hope you make it.”
Spurrier turned to the rest of the team. “Alright guys, I want you to crowd around,” he said. “I want you to make as much noise as possible.”
“We want to make this like game situation,” Spurrier said to Adam, backing away. “We want to put as much pressure on you as possible. You’ve got to make this kick for real money and you’ve got to make the kicks in the game with a lot of pressure, so you better not miss this one.”
Adam tightened both of his cleats – the larger meant for support, the smaller tied as tight as possible onto his kicking to deliver a clean strike to the ball. It was only a 42-yarder, a kick he had made thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of times in practice. Only, this wasn’t practice.
The lines were set, with Adam just a few paces from the holder. Moments later, the snapper rifled a Wilson GST football back to the holder, who planted it on the ground and turned its black laces and white strikes toward the end zone. Adam stepped forward. The kick felt great as his right foot thumped the light brown leather.
But looking up, he saw a gust of wind carrying it toward the left upright. For a split second, Adam’s heart stopped. Don’t go, don’t do it, don’t go, his brain commanded the ball as it soared toward the post.
An eternity later, the ball snuck in through the left upright. Dozens of garnet and black Under Armour gloves reached for the sky, and the entire team mauled Adam in the middle of the field. Amidst the ruckus, individual teammates came up to introduce Adam into the fraternity of scholarship players.
“Hey, I just want you to know, we know you’re going to make the kicks when we need them this year,” Victor Hampton said when he found Adam. “We’re glad to have you as our kicker. Congratulations.”
After getting his fill of laughs and hugs, Adam found coach Robinson. “Congratulations,” Robinson said, shaking Adam’s hand and grinning. “I can’t think of anyone who deserves it more than you did.”
With that, Adam sprinted off of the field in his pads and cleats, toward the locker room, where he belonged.