Hey, we can’t kick off the season without acknowledging the walk-ons.
Even in a league like the SEC, where teams spend an obscene amount of money to go all over the country and recruit players, occasionally a few guys slip through the cracks and make big impacts as walk-ons.
South Carolina’s Spencer Lanning is a prime example.
He enters his third season as the Gamecocks’ punter. In fact, he punted his sophomore season without a scholarship before later earning one.
It’s one of the best investments the Gamecocks could have made. Lanning is now their place-kicker and punter, the only player in the league last season to handle both roles, and is an All-SEC candidate at both spots as he enters his senior season.
He’s also emerged as one of the most respected leaders on the team, and his head coach no longer has trouble remembering his name. When Lanning first showed up, Steve Spurrier was prone to refer to him as "Lanning Spencer."
Now, Spurrier simply refers to him as clutch.
“Spencer Lanning may be one of the toughest kickers you’ll ever see,” Spurrier said. “In the weight room, he’s one of the best lifters (strength coach Craig Fitzgerald) has seen. He’s kicked beautifully. He’s at the top of his game right now. Hopefully, he didn’t peak in preseason, but he makes virtually everything in practice each day.”
Lanning was 17-of-20 on field-goal attempts last season and also averaged 41.9 yards a punt. He made 12 straight field goals at one point without a miss.
He’s not the only former walk-on in the league poised to have a big impact this season.
Kentucky has had an incredible run of success with walk-ons, at least one regular starter for seven years in a row. Junior Luke McDermott is slated to start at defensive tackle this season. Nick Melillo was the Wildcats’ starting tight end until he was injured.
At Mississippi State, Patrick Hanrahan is listed as the starting fullback, and Emmanuel Gatling is pushing for a starting job at outside linebacker.
Nick Reveiz is Tennessee’s starting middle linebacker and one of the Vols’ most inspirational leaders. Garrett Chisolm is penciled in to start at offensive guard for South Carolina, while James Stampley is LSU’s starting fullback.
Here’s a sampling of walk-ons around the league who’ve gone on to become starters or will play key roles as backups or special teams players this season:
Seth Armbrust, DB, Arkansas
Garrett Chisolm, OG, South Carolina
John Fairbanks, DS, Florida
Reuben Faloughi, OLB, Georgia
Ty Frix, DS, Georgia
Emmanuel Gatling, OLB, Mississippi State
Daniel Graff, DB, LSU
Patrick Hanrahan, FB, Mississippi State
Richard Kent, P, Vanderbilt
Will Lowery, S, Alabama
Luke McDermott, DT, Kentucky
Craig McIntosh, K, Kentucky
Nick Melillo, TE, Kentucky
Spencer Lanning, PK, South Carolina
Nick Reveiz, LB, Tennessee
James Stampley, FB, LSU
Carson Tinker, DS, Alabama
Jay Wisner, WR, Auburn