South Carolina’s defensive line position remains precarious.
Only three scholarship players are past sophomore eligibility, at a spot coach Will Muschamp and defensive line coach Lance Thompson will swear is a “developmental position.” That means true freshman end Aaron Sterling should get playing time in 2017.
He fits the top qualification.
“With the numbers we’ve got, you’ve just got to be a football player a little bit,” Thompson said. “And he’s a football player.”
The 6-foot-1, 240 pounder from Tucker High School in Atlanta was among the slew of first-year players Muschamp promised would play this season. He was considered in some spots a tackle out of high school, but at that size, likely fills the larger defensive end spot within USC’s scheme.
It’s a spot where the Gamecocks should already have a couple options in the two-deep, with Dante Sawyer trying to translate flashes to all-the-time production and Keir Thomas kicking out from tackle to his more natural end position.
But Sterling drew a pretty good comparison from his coaches.
“Aaron Sterling has been a really pleasant surprise,” Thompson said. “A little bit like D.J. (Wonnum) was last year. Very instinctive, great attitude, works hard, super kid. Really excited about Aaron.”
Wonnum was a summer enrollee at Buck who Muschamp mentioned as showing well in the first week of camp. He spent the season as the top reserve at the position and projects as a starter this season.
Although Sterling’s listed weight isn’t the highest (at least 22 pounds fewer than Sawyer or Thomas), he was highly productive in high school. He had 23 1/2 sacks as a junior and was at one point an Alabama commit.As a senior, he posted 77 tackles, 19 1/2 for loss, with 15 1/2 sacks, a forced fumble and an interception.
What that means in 2017 isn’t yet clear, but in a situation where he could be needed, he’s done enough to get a foot in the door.
“He’s picked up the scheme, and he’s a hard worker,” Thompson said. “And he’s got a skillset that you can work around and do some things with. He’s making progress.”