Published August 3, 2012 - 12:45pm
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Heisman candidate stud Marcus Lattimore is one of many weapons on the South Carolina offense. Kenny Miles and Brandon Wilds fly under the radar as underrated backs while Connor Shaw proved to be an efficient, dual-threat quarterback over last season’s final few months. These four — along with junior wideout Ace Sanders — all have one thing in common: Opposing coaches know when they’re in the game and defenses reflect it.
On defense, Jadeveon Clowney and D.J. Swearinger made names for themselves in 2011 while Devin Taylor has been causing havoc in the opposite backfield throughout his career. Swearinger is the team’s returning leader in tackles and interceptions while Clowney and Taylore combined for 14 sacks.
There are a few Gamecocks however, on both sides of the football, that should have big seasons despite the ‘jury still being out’ in the minds of the opposition.
Good news for South Carolina fans? They’re all sophomores.
5. Damiere Byrd, Soph., WR: The first of two pint-sized speedsters, Byrd sat out his first four games as freshman due to an academic issue. When he did play, the Gamecocks used him in the slot to stretch the field and on end-around plays to take advantage of his deceptiveness. Considered the fastest player on the team, Byrd hasn’t earned a starting spot but he’ll make a few highlight-worthy plays this fall when he gets on the field.
4. Bruce Ellington, Soph., WR: Basketball and football. Basketball or football. How about just football for now for Gamecock point guard Bruce Ellington. A high school quarterback, Ellington should see a few snaps in the Wildcat formation this season, start on special teams and be in the huddle at receiver in 4 and 5-wide sets. Ellington was honored as an All-SEC special teamer as a freshman and scored two memorable touchdowns on offense — a 61-yard scamper down the visiting sideline against Kentucky and a 49-yard reception in the Gamecocks’ third straight win over Clemson.
3. Rory Anderson, Soph., TE: Anderson is more of a big-play threat than his pass-catching counterpart Justice Cunningham with long strides and a slender frame at 6-foot-5, 215 pounds. Due to his speed, he’s a matchup nightmare for outside linebackers covering him own the middle of the field. As a true freshman, three of his eight receptions went for touchdowns.
2. Victor Hampton, Soph., CB: C.C. Whitlock and Stephon Gilmore are gone, so who is going to help D.J. Swearinger and Akeem Auguste defend the pass in the secondary? Victor Hampton, a rangy second-year corner from Darlington who played in 10 games last season. The former U.S. Army All-American who will also see action on special teams can match most of the SEC’s top wideouts step for step. In his first full season as a starter, Hampton should be a star.
1. Kelcy Quarles, Soph., DT: Projected as the full-time starter in the middle of the defensive line in place of first-round pick Melvin Ingram, Quarles has a chance to lead the Gamecocks in sacks this season. Why? Teams will shift their focus to Clowney and Taylor, two bookends that round out one of the most ferocious front lines in the SEC. The powerful sophomore is bigger than Ingram at 6-foot-4, 285 pounds and has plenty of experience, starting the final six games of last season.