South Carolina needs a boost, any kind of spark, in the punt return game, and is turning back to one of its most intense players to get it.
Of course, that intensity is what got him off of punt return in the first place.
Victor Hampton nearly knocked himself out in the season-opener against North Carolina, taking some high risks for low-reward plays. He was hit helmet-to-helmet and had his bell rung, which put Bruce Ellington back in the role, but after the Gamecocks needed to get Ellington back to kickoff return, Hampton was again moved to the position.
Hampton knew it was coming.
“I always knew I would get my chance again, I just had to get back healthy,” he said. “They’re giving me a full week of practice, and I’m going to get back.”
So what will be different? The main thing, Hampton said, is drawing the line between his natural aggressiveness and doing what’s best for the team. It’s safe to say he won’t be charging into a crowd of opponents looking for a fair catch.
“I’m an aggressive guy, but there’s a difference between being aggressive and being smart,” Hampton said. “That was my first time really doing punt return in a game, the whole game, so it was a good game experience for me.”
A noon kickoff on Saturday leaves plenty of time for the Gamecocks to catch most of the Georgia-LSU game, which is set for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff. If the Tigers win, USC is back in the race for the SEC East championship, although the Bulldogs would have to lose again and USC would have to win out to make that goal a reality.
Quarterback Connor Shaw won’t be paying attention to it.
“Honestly, I really don’t care about that right now,” Shaw said on Tuesday. “Object number one is to beat UCF, and we’ll see what happens after that.”
UCF quarterback Blake Bortles is all over the school record book, above or below another name familiar to USC fans. Bortles has passed former Knights standout Vic Penn in career pass attempts, career pass completions and longest streak without an interception.
Penn was an All-SEC Freshman for the Gamecocks in 1997, but transferred after that year to a Kansas junior college. He transferred to UCF for two big seasons in 1999 and 2000, as he replaced future all-pro Daunte Culpepper.
UCF has one South Carolina native on its roster. Clayton Geathers, of the famous Geathers clan that populates the Lowcountry, is a redshirt junior defensive back.
Geathers is from Hemingway and prepped at Carvers Bay High.
Jadeveon Clowney and Chaz Sutton, each hobbled with foot injuries, were full-go in practice on Tuesday. Cody Waldrop, out since the first game with a sprained foot, was running around and could play on Saturday, although it might be a late-week decision, and both he and Clayton Stadnik could play. Kelcy Quarles (sprained neck) and Jonathan Walton (shoulder) fully practiced.