A multi-talented placekicker and punter, Gardocki – who has played 16 years in the NFL and won a Super Bowl ring as the punter for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2005 – was an All-American for the Tigers in 1989 and 1990. The Clemson Hall of Famer still holds the season and career records for punting average, and the record for most career points per game as well as the record for most consecutive extra points (72) made.
The three-time All-ACC selection finished his Clemson career fourth in the nation in both punting and field goals per game as a junior, just the second player in NCAA history to accomplish that feat.
Now 17 years later, an almost clone, if you will, of Gardocki is expected to make his Clemson debut this fall. Richard Jackson of Riverside High School in Greer, S.C., has a chance to be the Tigers' first dual threat kicker at Clemson since Gardocki booted a 78-yard punt in 1990 against South Carolina – his last punt as a Clemson Tiger.
"Richard is an extremely talented place kicker and punter and I look to see him compete for both jobs come this spring," Clemson assistant Billy Napier said, who is in charge of kickers and punters.
Though he has yet to touch the playing surface of Memorial Stadium, Jackson has already equaled Gardocki on one feat – he is the first Parade All-American kicker to come to Clemson since Gardocki in 1988.
"I don't know if he could be like Gardocki or not, but he has the leg strength and the talent to do it," Napier said. "He has a strong leg. It's going to be up to Richard if he can do it. He has the desire and dedication I think to be able to do it, but we will have to see how he handles those things when it comes crunch time."
In his high school career, Jackson had little troubles doing both. The No. 10 kicker in the nation by Scout.com was a Shrine Bowl selection as well as earning All-State honors from The State (Columbia, S.C) Newspaper and the South Carolina Coaches Association.
During his senior year, he set the state record with a 64-yard field goal, a kick that made ESPN's Plays of the Week. He also booted a 47-yard field goal in that same game.
As a junior at Riverside, he connected on 8 of 11 field goals with a long of 50 yards, while at the same time averaging 44 yards a punt.
"We are definitely looking for Richard to make an impact for us this year," Napier said.
Jackson (5-11, 185 pounds) could have made an impact this past season, but a lower back injury during preseason camp forced the coaching staff to redshirt the multi-talented kicker.
"That really limited what he could do, but he still had a good year," Napier said. "He was able to get a lot of other things accomplished and we look for him to really compete this coming year."
Though Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden prefers to have a separate punter and place kicker, he will not rule out the idea of having one guy do both as long as he is consistently effective at doing both.
"Ideally, we would like to have one guy do all the punting and another do the kicking, but if Richard comes in and proves to us that he can do it all, then we will not rule it out," Napier said. "The thing is, it's real hard for an athlete at this level be successful doing both because timing is an issue. The reason few guys can do both is because they have problems with the muscle memory and the rotation because, obviously, both are different and it's hard to get the timing down."
If Jackson is able to do both, then he will fill two needs the Tigers have to answer this spring with the departures of Jad Dean at place kicker and Cole Chason at punter. Jackson is expected to battle walk-ons Jimmy Maners and Grant Schallock for the punting position and Mark Buchholz, who's a midfielder on the Clemson soccer team, for the placekicking duties.
"Competition is a good thing and I think it will be very competitive this year with our kickers and punters," Napier said. "A good example is last year with Cole Chason. During the off season, Coach Bowden challenged him through the media to work harder and improve and when Jimmy started to come on and Coach Bowden mentioned it to the press, it did wonders for Cole and he had a great season for us last year."
CUTigers Outlook: Clemson needs both a punter and a place kicker this fall and Jackson is more than capable of filling one, if not both of those spots. The redshirt freshman has a strong leg, but was inconsistent at times last year in practice. If Jackson gets his consistency issues under control, he could turn into one of those rare dual threat specialists like Wake Forest's Sam Swank. For right now, however, look for Jackson to become the Tigers' starter at either punter or place kicker.
Expectations High for Jackson
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