Gamecocks seek secondary solutions for future

jkendall@thestate.comDecember 18, 2013 

USC’s Victor Hampton intercepts a pass against Coastal Carolina last month.

TIM DOMINICK — tdominick@thestate.com

When South Carolina fans look at the makeup of next year’s roster, they wonder where all the cornerbacks are. Gamecocks secondary coach Grady Brown has the answer.

“They are in high school,” Brown said.

South Carolina is scrambling for cornerbacks after junior Victor Hampton’s decision to enter the NFL draft after the Capital One Bowl, which was not a surprise, and sophomore Ahmad Christian’s recent decision to transfer, which was.

Hampton offered hope this week that he could return, but no one in Columbia is counting on that. Instead, Brown and his fellow assistant coaches are spreading the word to recruits that there’s plenty of playing time to be had in garnet and black next season.

“They should know. They see it,” Brown said. “It’s not just salesman talk. They see the depth chart, and they see that we really only have one guy returning right now.”

That one guy is redshirt freshman Rico McWilliams, whose contribution this season is one tackle. The other cornerbacks on the roster didn’t contribute that much. Junior Ronnie Martin played in the first game of the season briefly and not again and freshman Ali Groves missed the season because of a shoulder injury.

South Carolina has two defensive back commitments in the upcoming recruiting class — Fort Lauderdale, Fla., three-star prospect Al Harris and Summerville three-star prospect Darin Smalls — but both have leg injuries that could affect their preparation for next fall’s preseason practices.

The Gamecocks still are recruiting defensive backs, and a pair of four-star cornerbacks out of Georgia are their top targets — D.J. Smith of Marietta and Wesley Green of Lithonia. (Green was originally committed to USC but reopened his recruitment.)

Regardless of what happens on signing day, spring practice will be an adventure. Brown, a defensive back at Alabama A&M from 1995 to 1998, joked he’s good for “three or four plays” if pressed into emergency service.

“Honestly, spring is not a big concern because the situation is the situation,” he said. “There is nothing I can do about it. As long as we are ready to play Texas A&M, that’s the focus.”

South Carolina has no plans to convert one its safeties to cornerback, Brown said.

“I would rather be able to get Rico ready to play and sign some corners next year who are corners,” Brown said. “We will try to get Rico ready to go, but right now our focus is Wisconsin.”

The No. 8 Gamecocks play the No. 19 Badgers on Jan. 1 in Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium. Even if it is Hampton’s last game as expected, he’ll try to help next season, he said.

“I am going to stay in contact with (McWilliams) and encourage him as much as I can,” Hampton said.

Staff writer Dwayne McLemore contributed to this article.

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