During the offseason, a series of off-the-field missteps left C.C. Whitlock's status in doubt.
Now the South Carolina cornerback is getting a chance because of a discipline issue involving another player, and Whitlock plans to make the most of it.
Whitlock, a sophomore from Chester, made his first career start against S.C. State in place of Akeem Auguste, who is serving a three-game suspension for an undisclosed violation of team and university policy.
USC coach Steve Spurrier said Auguste would be reinstated after the Alabama game on Oct. 17 "if he does what he's supposed to."
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Whitlock is expected to start Saturday against Kentucky and hopes to hold on to the spot at least until Auguste is eligible to return against Vanderbilt.
"We're going to need Akeem Auguste down the road. I've just got to step up," Whitlock said following Monday's practice. "Like (assistant) coach (Lorenzo Ward) said, he's looking for somebody to step up and make plays. I'm going to try to be that guy."
The 5-foot-10, 173-pound Whitlock arrived at USC in January 2008 as a four-star prospect who began his career at receiver, drawing comparisons to Gamecocks career receiving leader Kenny McKinley because of his size and athleticism.
But Whitlock was moved to corner after four games and played sparingly the rest of the season.
His tumultuous offseason included a pair of suspensions within days of each other, the second triggered by a trespassing charge following a nightclub incident near his hometown. Whitlock later was exonerated of the charge and served a one-game suspension during the Gamecocks' 38-16 win against Florida Atlantic.
USC free safety Chris Culliver believes Whitlock is beginning to grow up.
"C.C., on the field, he's a good guy. Off the field, he don't make the best decisions. But he's maturing and becoming a better player and a better student," Culliver said. "You haven't heard him in the paper lately. He's trying to get his act together. He really wants to be a contributor to the South Carolina defense."
Whitlock had three tackles, including one for a loss, against the Bulldogs. Ward, who coaches the corners and free safeties, described Whitlock's play as "not bad," saying he would like to see Whitlock become more aggressive in man-to-man coverage.
"He has the ability," Ward said. "But I think he gives receivers a lot more respect than he should, based on his ability."
Whitlock, who led Chester to the Class 3A title game as a senior while playing nearly every skill position, is the elder statesman in a corner rotation that includes freshmen Stephon Gilmore and D.J. Swearinger. Whitlock again is scheduled to start at field corner opposite Gilmore, who has started every game at boundary corner.
"It's a great opportunity," Whitlock said. "Obviously, (Ward) had enough trust in me to put me in to that situation with Akeem Auguste being out the next two weeks."
Ward believes Whitlock will be up to the task.
"He knew it was it going to be a challenge, and he knows it's going to have a bigger challenge in the weeks to come," Ward said. "He's got a great attitude and he understands he needs to play well in order for us to be successful in the secondary."