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Once the last guy drafted, Ryan Succop now a big reason Bucs are relevant

The latest in an assembly line of Tampa Bay kickers has made his last 11 field goals.
Bucs kicker Ryan Succop reacts after kicking a field goal during the second half of Monday night's victory over the New York Giants in East Rutherford, N.J.
Bucs kicker Ryan Succop reacts after kicking a field goal during the second half of Monday night's victory over the New York Giants in East Rutherford, N.J. [ BILL KOSTROUN | AP ]
Published Nov. 5, 2020

TAMPA — He arrived at the city where kicking careers typically go to flatline with a thick resume and thicker skin.

The latter is a prerequisite when you’ve spent a lifetime lugging around surnames that hardly connote athletic cachet. One arrived at birth 34 years ago in Hickory, N.C. The other came in 2009, when the Chiefs took him with the 256th and last pick of the NFL draft.

“First of all, when you’re a field-goal kicker and your last name is Succop (pronounced SUCK-up), you already better be able to laugh at yourself,” new Bucs placekicker Ryan Succop said. “And then if they put the name ‘Mr. Irrelevant’ on there, you’ve definitely got to laugh at yourself.”

These days, the irony is far more laughable: It took a guy once branded with that tag to finally bring soccer-style consistency to a franchise that goes through kickers like disposable masks.

“Don’t jinx him, brother,” said Bucs coach Bruce Arians, who has watched Succop convert his last 11 field goals. “We’re putting him in position where he’s very, very comfortable, too, inside that 45(-yard) range.”

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The Bucs' ninth kicker since 2015, Succop hasn’t missed since an errant 44-yarder in the first half of a 38-31 home win against the Chargers more than a month ago. Fighting fickle gusts Monday night at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, he nonetheless converted from 37, 40, 43 and 38 yards in a 25-23 triumph against the Giants, and was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week.

But what’s a brisk wind in your face when you’ve had a bunch of hot air at your back? In a previous life, Succop kicked at South Carolina, where a certain snarky ball coach would stand behind him and ceaselessly try to get him off his game.

“Oh, that was standard protocol,” former Gamecocks and Jefferson High quarterback Stephen Garcia said.

Thing was, mind-games extraordinaire Steve Spurrier couldn’t rattle the kid. Succop was the Gamecocks' starting kicker three years, twice earning second-team All-SEC honors.

“Sometimes he’d come out there with his shirt off, and that was just enough, to see your head coach with his shirt off,” Succop said. “He loved watching us kick, and he would stand back there, he’d be talking, he’d be chirping the whole time during the field-goal period. If he ever got you to miss one, he’d let you know about it. It was fun.”

His NFL irrelevance ended on his draft weekend. In his first season in Kansas City, Succop tied the league record for highest field-goal percentage in a season by a rookie (86.2), kicking off a mostly sparkling half-decade tenure with the Chiefs.

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He was waived in the final stages of the 2014 preseason but signed with Tennessee two days later and spent six years with the Titans. During that span, he missed one field goal shorter than 40 yards and made an NFL-record 56 in a row from inside 50.

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His consistency transcended holds and hash marks. Seems Succop’s trajectory off the field has rarely drifted.

To this day, Garcia, who roomed with Succop and two other teammates for more than a year in a four-bedroom suite on the South Carolina campus, never has heard the kicker curse. Whereas Garcia’s off-field shenanigans were well chronicled, he said Succop’s lifestyle, which includes Scripture reading before most games, was antiseptic in comparison.

And his humility rivals that of another prominent Spurrier pupil — Danny Wuerffel. After being named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week on Monday, Succop deflected much of the credit toward long snapper Zach Triner and holder Bradley Pinion.

“One of the nicer guys I’ve ever known or had the privilege of being on a team with,” said Garcia, now a local private quarterback trainer.

“Obviously, you can look at him, he’s a pretty jacked kicker (6-feet-2, 218 pounds), and he’s always been that way. His outlook wasn’t going out and partying with everybody. It was kind of going to church and hanging out with his longtime girlfriend and working out.”

Only an injury led to his matriculation to the bay area. Succop had knee surgery after the 2018 season, then served two stints on injured reserve the following year. Sandwiched in between was his most miserable stretch as a pro (1-for-6 on field goals), ultimately leading to his release in March.

“You want to get back out there and play so bad,” Succop, a married dad of two, says in his rich Carolina baritone.

"I was coming off a knee injury, and the first 10 or 11 years of my career, I never really had any issues, then one popped up last year. It was something that I certainly faced some adversity and had to fight through that, and last year was difficult.

“But at the same time, it makes you realize how much you love the game, how much you’re thankful for being healthy and the work that you put in to be able to go out and do what you love.”

He was brought in by Arians to compete with second-year kicker Matt Gay and fellow former Gamecock Elliott Fry after both had struggled in training camp. Pining for someone who could make “the gimmes,” Arians and the Bucs signed him in early September.

Since then, Succop has only made it look easy. As meteorological fate would have it, each of the Bucs' three home games to this point have featured tricky winds. Then came Monday night.

Garcia never doubted his old roomie, for good reason.

Backpedal a dozen or so years, and the two are trying to talk their way onto a golf course near South Carolina’s campus. For some reason, the manager won’t let them on, but reconsiders with one stipulation.

“And the guy’s like, ‘All right, if you get within 10 feet on each one of these shots, I’ll let you guys play,’” Garcia recalled.

With that, Succop approached a row of roughly a half-dozen balls, assessed the pin about 50 yards away, and started chipping.

“And sure enough, no warmup, he just literally walked right up to them and stuck them, like, close (to the pin). Rapid fire. It was one of the more impressive things I’ve seen on a golf range.”

Of course, such a feat doesn’t really translate to football, unless one is considering Succop’s ability to perform in the clutch.

Then it becomes relevant. Really relevant.

“He doesn’t blink,” Arians said following Monday night’s game. “He just goes out and gets his job done.”