Deon Green spent his first year at South Carolina wondering if his “welcome to college football” moment would ever come.
Offensive linemen T.J. Johnson and Ronald Patrick helped make sure it did.
Both bowled through Green, a redshirt freshman defensive tackle, when the Gamecocks started preseason practice. Defensive line coach Brad Lawing stepped in with a message.
“He told me ‘Welcome to college’ the other day when I got put on my back,” Green said. “It’s something I’ve got to get used to. I’ve got to get low.”
The 6-foot-4, 290-pounder was speaking about his pad level, not the lows he experienced while he recovered from right knee surgery.
A class of 2011 signee, Green arrived at USC with a meniscus problem that he played through at Olympia High in Windermere, Fla. An ACL problem – not a tear – led to a complicated surgery to make sure the ligament stayed in place.
The surgery, recovery and time away from football were depressing, Green said.
“There was no worse feeling in the world. Sometimes I felt like football wasn’t for me,” he said. “I went through camp, went through spring, went through the season just watching. I’ve never been a watcher. ... But I’m back out here and I’m happy to be back.”
Lawing has been impressed with Green in preseason camp.
“He’s moved around really well,” Lawing said. “He’s gained a lot of confidence. His conditioning is not quite what it needs to be, but it’s getting there.”
Green grew up in Bowman, just outside Orangeburg, and still has family in the area.
He is trying to work into the defensive tackle rotation behind sophomore Kelcy Quarles and senior Byron Jerideau.
Green felt like a newcomer in South Carolina’s early practices, his first ones as a Gamecock. He hasn’t played football since his high school career ended in the fall of 2010.
Lawing praised Green’s attitude, quickness and intelligence.
“I think he’s going to be a good player for us,” he said. “As the season wears on, I want to see him make progress every week. As long as he does that, he’s going to be fine.”
Green had more than 20 scholarship offers, choosing the Gamecocks over Clemson, Penn State, South Florida, Central Florida, Ole Miss and others. He had 68 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, a pair of sacks and two fumble recoveries as a high school senior.
His goals for preseason practice are to improve his knowledge of the plays and to earn a spot in the rotation.
So far, so good, he said.
“I love it. Each day of practice is motivation,” he said. “Hopefully there are no steps back. I’ve got to keep taking steps forward.”