One has to take a closer look, watch South Carolina Buck D.J. Wonnum at work to appreciate it.
On first and 10 against Arkansas, the offensive tackle across from him flares out. But Wonnum stepped in. A fullback filling that gap tried to get him, but he slipped by, and nailed the running back.
Second and 10. Arkansas gets tricky, faking a run up the middle, having the quarterback pump fake a screen one way and turn around to dump off for a running back screen the other way. Only Wonnum is there in the traffic, swatting the pass back. It’s third and 10 and the drive is on life support.
This was what Wonnum did all day against Arkansas. The numbers weren’t huge, but every one seemed to come in a crucial spot. Beyond them, he was all over, setting edges, flushing quarterbacks and throwing off defensive linemen to make a play.
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“That boy’s got some fire,” USC defensive end Dante Sawyer said. “Y’all seen it too. He’s someone to reckon with.”
That’s exactly what Wonnum has grown into. Only a sophomore and a first-year starter, he’s developed into a top disrupter on a line that’s taken a collective step forward this season.
“It’s no surprise he’s doing what he’s doing,” Gamecocks linebacker Skai Moore said.
For the season, Wonnum has 28 tackles, 6 1/2 for loss, a couple sacks, two pass breakups and a hurry. A lot of that came against the Razorbacks, with both breakups coming on second or third-and-long, both helping snuff out drives.
He came into this season after serving as Darius English’s backup a season ago. He stepped into a tricky situation that season too, and has taken to the new role.
“There is not doubt that D.J. has played extremely well this year,” Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp said. “He’s a steady hand. You know you’re going to get good production out of him. He is extremely bright. He is extremely intelligent. He really understands the game. He’s a guy (that) you can tell him something one time, and he gets it. It’s done. You don’t have to tell him over and over again; he’s not a rep guy. The game comes very easy to him. He’s going to play for a long time.”
The coach said Wonnum worked most on his pass-rush moves in the offseason. He was challenged to step up in the weight room, and his game has evolved (he’s also been a few steps away from several more sacks, which is to say, the numbers understate the impact).
Wonnum’s path to and at South Carolina has been straight and measured. Out of Atlanta, he was committed to Iowa State and then Indiana, and at times was considered possibly a tight end.
But he grew as a senior, fitting more of a defensive end mold. He flipped to the Gamecocks just before signing day, part of a flurry of shifts in that last month.
As a skinny, late bloomer, there seemed to be redshirt potential. Instead, he impressed the staff from the first week of practice. He was the top backup at his position by the end of the first few weeks and now a potential star by the middle of year two.
“Since I got back, back on the field, playing with DJ, he’s been very disruptive,” Moore said. “He’s a good player, athletic, strong, smart.”