Hidden yards win football games. As our man Poseur consistently points out, LSU quietly dominates the stats that don't decorate the box score frequetnly. You can underscore the lengthy list of reasons for success under Miles with the cause of all those hidden yardage totals: special teams.
LSU's strong special teams play emanates from a variety of sources. Obviously strong coaching puts our players into the best possible situation to succeed. Playing special teams is also the right of passage to becoming a quality offensive or defensive starter for the team. Players like Jarvis Landry make standout special teams' plays and eventually wind up as one of the best players on the team. The coaches turn to young players frequently on coverage and return teams both due to the inherent nature of veteran players naturally assuming the starting roles but also as way to grow them up into the college game. This translate into smoother transitions into positional duties.
The coaches also dedicate scholarships to specialists. The relationships built with prolific amateur specialist coaches help turn the attention of high profile specialists on to LSU. The coaches also go out of their way to seek out preferred walkons such as Drew Alleman.
All the emphasis produces fantastic results for Les Miles. This recruiting class he sought another talented leg for the future. Scholarship kickers, punters and long snappers remain the most maligned offers of every signing class. Star hungry recruitniks prefer the spaces to be filled with other "more important" positions, but the mounting evidence continues to suggest reserving a scholarship for specialists pays major dividends. Miles took it a step further this year offering a highly specialized specialist. Yet, it may prove a savvy recruiting move that will immediately fill a position of need.
As with most specialists, there's not a ton of back story here. Whatever recruiting battles are fought over kickers, punters and snapper, they aren't publicly played out on recruiting sites and through the media. They receive very little attention outside of an interview or two. The interviews typical detail the offers they hold and maybe a small bit on whomever they go to for training.
Gamble, of Flower Mound, Texas, pledged to LSU on July 13th to very little fanfare. In fact, we didn't even get around to doing a "[Player X] Commits!" piece for him. Upon a bit of investigation, most fans were additionally steamed that not only were the coaches "wasting" a scholarship on a kicker, the coaches were wasting a scholarship on a kicker that doesn't even kick field goals. At first blush, it is seemingly suspect. Gamble handled kickoff duties for his high school but attempted fewer than five field goals in his entire HS career. Why?
Gamble never flirted around with other schools, never even visiting anywhere else. He dropped in to LSU for his official visit in January and signed his papers a couple weeks later.
Tale of the Tape
Weight: 185 pounds
Like any of you really care.
Strengths: Leg Strength
Weaknesses: Lack of FG Experience
Leg Strength: Here's the kid's meal ticket. It's pretty impossible to "study" a kicker/punter, especially because all most of what we have to work with are camp workouts, but you can see he can let it fly off that leg. The future for him is likely on kickoffs, and it's easy to see him becoming a guy that can pretty consistently boot them out the back of the endzone. He's already doing that in HS. But he's not just all power. At 6:40 you see a bevy of directional kicks and his ability to control where the ball is going. These are things we utilize from time to time, so it's important for him to illustrate the video.
Lack of FG Experience: He doesn't kick field goals. Or he at least hasn't, much. Why recruit a prospect with a limited skill set? Why did his high school opt to use a different kicker over him? That's an unusual tactic for a high school, because finding one kid that can kick can be hard enough.
Gamble's a prospect no one will get excited about. Yet, he may wind up being the first LSU player to touch a football this fall. The early departure of kickoff specialist James Hairston opens the door right up for Gamble. The trend in recent seasons utilized two differing kicking specialists for FG/XP attempts and kickoffs. If Miles hopes to go that same route this season, then expect Colby Delahoussaye to to continue to be on field goals only.
That leaves the role of the KO specialist down to a few players: Kyle Pfau (walk-on Freshman), Trent Domingue (walk-on Sophomore) and Gamble. Logic dictates that the scholarship player would be the clubhouse leader, but we all know Miles will move forward with the best player, regardless of that. He looks like he can pretty consistently boot it in the 60-70 yard range, so there's not a ton of concern there. The question is, can he do so with accuracy? Is he big enough to become a tackling threat when needed? He's got a nice build, so I tend to think that's not a major issue.
I also have to believe the coaches have a lot of confidence in his ability to come in and contribute immediately. I'm not sure they let Hairston get away if they didn't think they had an option ready behind him.
I'm intrigued by Gamble's upside. He's probably the least popular member of this signing class for being not just a kicker, but a KO specialist, but there's a good chance this guy winds up being a standout for four years. What better way to use a scholarship? If he winds up pulling double duty and kicking field goals, he's well worth the scholarship.