Big-legged kicker transferring to USC

Ryan Succop, arguably one of the best kickers in USC football history, exhausted his eligibility last season, which left the Gamecocks with a big void to fill at placekicker in the coming years. While he won't be eligible to play this season, the Gamecocks have help on the way in the form of North Carolina transfer Jay Wooten, who was a top ten kicker nationally coming out of high school in 2007.

Wooten, who was rated by as the No. 9 kicker in America in the 2007 recruiting cycle, signed with North Carolina out of high school. But after two seasons in Chapel Hill, where Casey Barth emerged as the starting placekicker, Wooten decided to look elsewhere to finish out his college eligibility.

That search led the big-legged Laurinburg, NC native to the University of South Carolina, where both of his parents graduated, and where he felt most comfortable during the process of looking for a new school.

"I pulled the trigger today and made the decision to go to South Carolina," Wooten said enthusiastically over the phone on Tuesday evening. "It's something I prayed a lot about, and I feel like it's the right decision. Being close to home was definitely a factor. Both of my parents are South Carolina graduates, and I've been going to games there since I was a little kid. I've always been a South Carolina fan. I just feel at home there."

Wooten grew up an avid fan of South Carolina football, but he didn't feel the timing was right at USC when he committed to the Tar Heels out of high school, largely because of Succop being entrenched as the Gamecocks' starting placekicker at the time. Following a disappointing stint in Chapel Hill, Wooten is now extremely excited about the fresh start that he will get at South Carolina, and he is grateful for the opportunity to be a Gamecock this time around.

"I've been a South Carolina fan all my life. I've loved the Gamecocks since before I knew how to walk. I've probably gone to games since I was six or seven months old with my dad," he recalled. "Coming out of high school, South Carolina wasn't really an option because of the timing and their situation there. I went to North Carolina thinking that was going to be my best opportunity for success. Things didn't pan out quite the way I wanted, but they don't always do. They say things always happen for a reason, and I'm really excited with how things have fallen into place and I get the chance to come down and be a Gamecock."

The Scotland County High School product will find two familiar faces when he arrives at USC, as he was high school teammates with current Gamecock defensive linemen Travian Robertson and Byron McKnight. Wooten acknowledged that having his two old classmates in Columbia is a bonus for him, since he's been friends with both for years.

"We went to middle school together and all four years of high school together, and now we're going to get to be teammates again. That's real cool," Wooten said. "I've talked with Travian and Byron here and there, and I know they love it down there. I'm really excited to get down there with them and have a couple guys I know."

While Wooten will come to USC with high expectations, he was quick to state that he has a lot of respect for the current kickers on the Gamecock roster and that he's looking forward to the competition next year.

"I know they've got some guys down there with talent, too. (Spencer) Lanning has been doing a great job for them, and (Adam) Yates and (Brandon) Berger, they've all been working hard and competing. There's going to be competition anywhere at any level. That's something you can't shy away from, it's just the nature of sports and the whole nature of college football," he said. "I'm just looking forward to the opportunity to go down there and compete."

Wooten, who said he would also like to handle kickoff duties at South Carolina, closed by reiterating how grateful he is for the way things fell into place and allowed him to end up a Gamecock.

"You only get one second chance, and a lot of people don't even get a second chance. I feel like I have an opportunity at South Carolina to start from scratch and come down to a big time football school with great fans. I know they're some of the most loyal, dedicated fans out there," he said. "They have a great coaching staff. I just felt like it would be a great place to come down to and compete. I'm looking forward to the fresh start and seeing what I can do."

Wooten, who is technically a redshirt sophomore this year, will have two years of eligibility remaining, beginning in 2010. He will be a preferred walk-on at USC.

Following a redshirt season in 2007, Wooten was 4-6 on field goal attempts and converted on all 11 PAT tries last fall for the Tar Heels. He averaged 60.8 yards per kickoff as UNC's kickoff specialist last season. Wooten earned ACC Specialist of the Week honors last September for his performance against Rutgers, when he hit three field goals (43, 29, and 27 yarders) and sent several kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks. His three made field goals in the Tar Heels' 44-12 blowout of Rutgers tied a freshman record for the most field goals in a game at North Carolina.

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