Junior Ace Sanders leads the SEC and is third in the nation in punt return average at 14.5 yards this season, and he probably leads the nation in punt return highlights.
His 70-yard touchdown return against Georgia, and a 50-yarder against LSU and 49-yarder against Missouri, became ESPN staples. The combination of production and pizzazz earned Sanders co-special teams player of the year honors from the SEC.
“I kept seeing replays of my runs on ESPN, so I was like, ‘I just hope they give me something for it,’ ” Sanders said Friday as the Gamecocks continued their preparations to play Michigan in the Outback Bowl on Tuesday.
Sanders, South Carolina’s second-leading receiver with 36 catches for 439 yards, submitted paperwork to the NFL’s underclassmen advisory committee to determine what his draft status might be if he enters this year’s pro draft.
Never miss a local story.
“I sent it off because coach (Steve) Spurrier told all the draft-eligible people to send it off,” Sanders said. “I haven’t gotten any feedback, still waiting to hear from them. I’m really focused on this game. I still have time to make a decision.”
Senior tight end Justice Cunningham added another tattoo to an already impressive collection last week. Cunningham had a four-inch tall picture of his mother’s face tattooed on the outside of his left arm. It was her Christmas present, Cunningham said.
“She liked it a lot,” he said. “She has been picking on me about it for a few years, saying, ‘You’ve got all these tattoos, you better get me.’ She never really thought I’d get it.”
Cunningham politely declined a request from The State to take a photo of the tattoo because it has not completely healed yet.
“It’ll be ready by the game,” he said.
The Gamecocks are last in the SEC in yards per carry. South Carolina has averaged 3.6 yards on its 474 rushing plays this season.
“We are not a strong running team by any means, but we have stayed on the field and been sort of efficient running,” Spurrier said.
Arkansas and Missouri are the only other teams in the conference averaging fewer than 4 yards per carry. Of the 41 teams in the country averaging fewer than 4 yards per carry, only South Carolina, San Jose State and Louisville have double digit victories.
Defending his guy
Unless Devin Taylor has three or more sacks in Tuesday’s game, his sack total will have dropped in each of the last two seasons. Taylor burst onto the national scene with 7.5 sacks as a sophomore. That number fell to six last year, and he has three so far this season.
However, defensive line coach Brad Lawing does not want to hear anyone say Taylor hasn’t had a good season.
“I tell people this, and they don’t believe me, he’s just as productive this year as he was last year and the year before that,” Lawing said. “I have his production sheets at the office. They don’t lie. His production ratio has been consistent all the way through.”
Taylor has 40 tackles this year, compared to 46 in 2010 and 42 last year.
Sights and sounds