COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP)Beamer Ball is back, only this time at South Carolina and led by second-year coach Shane Beamer, who has the Gamecocks back in the national rankings and fans yelling the family catchphrase made famous by Shane’s dad, Frank Beamer, at Virginia Tech.
”I’ve been so proud to watch,” Frank Beamer said by phone this week.
And all too familiar to the Beamer family. The Gamecocks (5-2, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) lead the nation with five blocked punts.
They opened their fourth straight win last week with a 100-yard kickoff return TD by Xavier Legette. The 30-24 victory, their first in nine tries against Texas A&M, earned them their first national ranking, No. 25, in four seasons.
Shane Beamer has long been part of nationally ranked programs as a player at Virginia Tech and as an assistant coaching for South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier, his father, Georgia’s Kirby Smart and Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley.
The younger Beamer acknowledged this milestone was much different than other rankings in his life. ”I’d love to give you cool coach speak and tell you, `They’re all the same.’ No, you’re the head coach and you’re ranked, it’s something we’re proud of,” he said.
When Frank Beamer got to Virginia Tech in 1987, his early teams struggled and needed a game-altering identity the Hokies could get behind. So he made sure he emphasized special teams and took part in meetings and practices.
Soon enough, Virginia Tech starters were there on kickoff and punt returns as their coach counseled them being skilled on special teams might enhance their NFL chances.
”They loved taking part on those teams for us,” Frank Beamer said.
His son carried that into his first head coaching job with the Gamecocks and made sure to have his hands on special teams alongside the unit’s coordinator, Pete Lembo.
Just like at Virginia Tech, South Carolina’s players have bought into the game’s third phase, excelling at returns, blocking schemes and changing games.
Legette’s end zone to end zone dash on Saturday had the Gamecocks in front before many had settled into their seats at Williams-Brice Stadium and set the tone for what was South Carolina’s first-ever victory against the Aggies.
The Gamecocks blocked two punts, both resulting in scoop-and-score touchdowns, in the season-opening 35-14 win over Georgia State.
Two weeks later, punter Kai Kroeger threw a successful pass on fourth-and-long to keep a drive alive against No. 1 Georgia with the Gamecocks down 14-0 early in what turned into a 48-7 defeat.
There were two more blocked punts in a win over FCS opponent South Carolina State on Sept. 29 and one more as the Gamecocks surprised then-13th-ranked Kentucky 24-14.
South Carolina receiver Josh Vann, who also returns punts, told his punt team rushers: ”Y’all should stop blocking the kicks so I can get one back” to the end zone,’ ”he said.
Vann said Lembo, a head coach for 15 years at Lehigh, Elon and Ball State, schemes plays for his units just like offensive and defensive coordinators do.
Lembo also might throw in a lecture about World War II or the Oscar-winning movie ”Rocky” for his much younger players.
”A lot of teams aren’t going to focus on special teams as much as we do,” tailback MarShawn Lloyd said after the win over Texas A&M. ”Coach (Shane) Beamer was a special teams coach, his dad was a big special teams coach, so we take that very importantly.”
It’s worked so far for the Gamecocks, who haven’t won four in a row since a six-game victory streak to close the 2013 season. They’ll go for five straight on Saturday against Missouri (3-4, 1-3).
Neither Beamer had the answer to the family’s legacy of special teams success. There are no secret documents or Ark of the Covenant filled with parchments detailing punt returns, two-point plays or gunner lanes stored away on family property, they say.
”It’s something we felt like could help us win,,” Frank Beamer said. ”My players understood that and Shane’s do, too.”
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