Senior Justice Cunningham leads South Carolina’s deep group of tight ends into the 2012 season.
Cunningham, from Pageland, started eight of the Gamecocks’ 13 games last year. He’s one of the faces of the program as he begins his final season with USC.
Last year Cunningham (6-4, 255) caught 18 passes for 142 yards and a touchdown.
This year he is the veteran leader among South Carolina’s tight ends, which includes underclassmen Rory Anderson, Drew Owens, Kelvin Rainey and Jerell Adams.
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How was your summer?
I lost a little weight, got a little faster, the team got better overall. I’m down to 255, a pretty good weight I want to be at right now.
How has your role evolved as a leader?
I try to lead by improvement. Everybody knows the tight ends don’t do dirty work around here. We’re going to get our job done and be the ones coaches can depend on most with every play.
How has the tight end position changed since you arrived?
There are a lot more plays for the tight ends since I got here. At first Weslye [Saunders] got a lot of balls. When he left we didn’t get a lot, but Coach Spurrier seems to be revving it back up for us.
How hungry are the new guys to get playing time?
Everybody’s hungry to get on the field this year. I like the competition.
What were summer workouts like?
The 7-on-7s were a lot more fun than usual. People were a lot more active, hustling, more serious. Everybody really seemed to step it up this year because they knew we had a big year coming. Players like D.J. Swearinger and myself were all making sure players got out here and we all worked hard when we were out here. In years past when we got here, guys weren’t really hustling. This year the offense got to the challenge of going against our defense and the defense responded really well to it.
After summer workouts, what’s it like to finally be back at practice?
Me and D.J. have been going hard every day since the beginning of May. We’re ready to prove that all the hard work we’ve done is going to pay off.
Can you tell Connor Shaw is more confident heading into this year?
A lot more confident. Connor knows he’s the man and this is his team. We can go as far as he takes us. Everybody on the field knows he can get the job done so everybody plays a whole lot harder for him.
What are your goals for all the tight ends?
I expect me and the rest of the tight ends to prove we’re the deepest position on the team and that anyone of us can touch the field at any time and make plays.
Do you expect to see more plays for the tight ends this year?
It depends. If we come out here and do what we’re supposed to do, catch every ball, run our routes crisp, hopefully Coach Spurrier will give us a chance.
What do coaches expect from you this season?
The coaches expect a lot more from me this year as far as teaching the younger players and making sure they know what they’re doing but also knowing what I need to do.
Talk about the expectations for the team.
Everybody knows the sky is the limit. The harder we work the better we’ll play. We’re not satisfied with what we did last year. We want to improve and get better every year.
-- Compiled by Dwayne McLemore