South Carolina football: Ranking the 10 best freshmen over the past 5 seasons
South Carolina’s thin recruiting class in 2021 was, in part, by design, but the Gamecocks still landed some interesting talent, including an in-state defensive tackle in T.J. Sanders, the No. 8 player in the state.
WR O’Mega Blake, who was ranked No. 9 in the state, by 247Sports, is another key player to watch largely, at this point, because he comes from talent-rich South Pointe High School in Rock Hill, which has produced several notable Gamecocks over the years, especially during the Steve Spurrier golden days.
Both of those players would love to land on a list like this in 5 seasons, and it would also be a strong sign for success in the Shane Beamer if they resemble any of the players below.
Here are the t0 best freshmen for the Gamecocks over the last 5 seasons:
10. Mohamed Kaba
A freshman last season, Kaba saw his playing time increase throughout the season. He played in 9 games and started 3 — the final 3 against Missouri, Georgia and Kentucky. The linebacker was named to the SEC Coaches’ All-Freshman team.
9. Jammie Robinson
In the 2019 season, Robinson finished 3rd on the team with 62 tackles as he grew into a key figure in the secondary. His highlights that season were 15 tackles, including 12 solo at Texas A&M, the most by a Gamecocks freshman since 1994. He also had 11 tackles against Clemson and 9 at Tennessee.
8. Zacch Pickens
Pickens didn’t waste any time showing his 5-star talent when he had 6 tackles against North Carolina, and he went on to play in all 12 games on the defensive line in the 2019 season. Pickens earned Freshman All-SEC honors as selected by the league’s coaches.
7. Jaycee Horn
In 2018, Horn started 10 games and was named the Most Productive Player Award for the defense with T.J. Brunson. Horn had 45 tackles with 4 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, and 8 pass breakups.
6. Jamyest Williams
Yes, Williams transferred after he battled a recurring shoulder injury. But as a freshman, he played in 11 games, and had 2 interceptions, including a momentum-changing pick against Missouri, which set up South Carolina’s go-ahead touchdown drive. He also had a big game against Florida, when he made 5 tackles, including 1 for loss against, and sealed the game with an interception on the Gators’ final drive.
5. Ryan Hilinski
South Carolina fans awaited his arrival and it didn’t take long to see him under center. After Jake Bentley was injured in Game 2 of the 2019 season, Hilinski took over. There were some freshman struggles, but he finished the season with 2,357 yards and 11 TDs against just 5 interceptions. Hilinski is the only true freshman in program history to throw for 300 yards 3 times in a season.
4. Dylan Wonnum
It didn’t take long for Wonnum to be a reliable fixture on the right side of the offensive line. He appeared in 9 games as a freshman in 2018, Wonnum ultimately started each of the final 7 games at right tackle. His play helped him land on the Coaches’ Freshman All-SEC squad.
3. Shi Smith
In Will Muschamp’s first full recruiting cycle, Smith turned out to be the best of what ultimately was a sub-par class. Smith quickly became a pleasant surprise as a secondary option and was reliable. He appeared in 12 games and made 7 starts. Smith caught 29 passes for 409 yards, a 14.1-yard average, with 3 scores and didn’t have a drop.
2. Jake Bentley
Somewhat of a polarizing figure in recent Gamecocks history, Bentley delivered one of the best stretches for the Garnet and Black in recent years, especially before the Georgia upset 2 years ago. Bentley started the final 7 games of the 2016 season and posted 4-3 record with 1,420 yards and 9 touchdowns with 4 interceptions.
Notably, his 65.8% completion percentage ranks 4th in Carolina history for a single season. One of the most memorable games of the Bentley era was the win over Tennessee in 2016 when he completed 15-of-20 passes for 167 yards and two TDs. He also connected with K.C. Crosby for a 35-yard TD in the 4th quarter that proved to be the game-winner against UT.
1. Bryan Edwards
Only player in the team’s top 5 receivers during the 2016 season to play all 12 games. Edwards finished with 44 catches, which was third on the team, for 590 yards. He also tied for a team-high 4 touchdown catches that season. With that production, according to his team bio, turned in the second-best true freshman campaign for a wide receiver in school history behind only Alshon Jeffery.