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December 28, 2010

Seniors Planning Ahead

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- One knew, one wasn't so sure.

Several South Carolina seniors will see their football careers -- collegiately, at least -- end on Friday at the Chick-fil-A Bowl. After that, what seems like a lifetime of practicing, conditioning, weight-lifting and having every minute planned out for them will end.

They'll suddenly have a lot of free time, with no coach or teammate to answer to. So what to do?

"I take it one game at a time," defensive tackle Ladi Ajiboye said, reverting to the standard non-speak about the future. "I'm going to try and figure it out after the game. I really don't know."

Ajiboye could perhaps get a shot at the NFL, due to his gift of making plays and being a rock in the middle of the line. A bit undersized for a next-league DT, Ajiboye could really help himself in that regard if he could get an invite to the NFL Combine, or impress enough scouts with his game film that they could page him for a few private workouts.

Ajiboye has a unique chance, since many scouts have probably at least noticed him since he plays on the same line as Cliff Matthews, expected to be a mid-round pick in this year's NFL Draft. He said on Monday that he hasn't decided whether or not he will attempt to make the jump to the NFL -- unlike Matthews, who is regarded as a sure progressor, Ajiboye would have to train and connect with NFL personnel to get a shot.

If he decides not to, he'll have one semester to finish the two necessary classes for his criminal justice degree. Ajiboye was only focused on the game on Friday, with the future remaining where its name says.

"I still haven't decided. Probably," he said of the NFL. "I still don't know. Too many things on my plate right now."

While Ajiboye figures things out after Friday, place-kicker Spencer Lanning has defined roads no matter what he chooses. Like his predecessor, Ryan Succop, Lanning hopes to get a chance at the next level, but if he doesn't, he'll proceed with another dream.

"I think I'm going to take a shot at the league, of course, and then, I need one more class to go to med school," the fifth-year senior said. "I'm going to try to go to med school and become a doctor. I'd really like to be a pediatric endocrinologist. Either way, I'm excited about either option."

With a degree in exercise science already in hand, Lanning plans to take the next semester off in order to train for a potential NFL shot. He's smart enough to know that only prime physical-specimen kickers get drafted -- Succop lasted until the last pick of the draft -- but figures he could maybe get a free-agent tryout somewhere.

Lanning's versatility could be a help. He has punted for three years and added kicking for the past two, plus occasionally kicking off. If he can show that he can consistently drop the ball between the uprights or wherever he wants to during punts, he could work his way into the top spot of the next level, just as he did at USC.

"Sort of scary," Lanning admitted. "For once in my life, I don't really know what I want to do. I've always been like, 'I've got to be back in January to start training, I've got to be back in school,' now it's like, 'Well, I don't really know what I'm going to do.'"

He will eventually have to complete the one class for med school consideration, and achieve the necessary score on the Medical College Admission Test before beginning his life after football. He has been looking at some local schools, preferring to stay in the South, but is ready to take the next step, whatever that may be.

"I've thought about it, and I've tried to make plans," Lanning said. "Doing a little bit of studying, try to get in there and take the MCATs a couple of times, just really, really train and try to see if I can really take a good shot at the NFL."

The Gamecocks have several other seniors who are weighing the same decisions, but all will wait until after Friday, when it's really upon them, to figure out how the next chapter of their lives will read.

For now, it's about finishing the page they're on with the best possible ending.

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