T.J. Holloman could see the fruits of a redshirt season in how he handled himself at South Carolina’s first spring practices.
And at 232 pounds – 16 pounds more than he weighed after the Outback Bowl – the freshman linebacker could also feel it in his legs.
“It’s the heaviest I’ve been in my life,” Holloman said. “Your legs feel a lot heavier, but you get adjusted to it. When lineman come off and attack me, I can put my hands on them and they jump off easier than when I was 216.”
Holloman, from Atlanta, is listed as the backup at middle linebacker this spring behind sophomore Kaiwan Lewis. Both are also practicing at the weakside linebacker spot.
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The start of practice went better than expected, Holloman said.
“I’m surprised I was so adjusted, knowing the calls and knowing where to set up,” he said. “Everything just flowed together. It felt really good. Me and Kaiwan have really worked hard this offseason along with Jordan Diggs, getting in the film room and learning everything.”
Holloman and Lewis signed with USC in the class of 2012, and they’re already the veterans at the position by default. The Gamecocks had four senior linebackers on last year’s squad, and redshirt sophomore Cedrick Cooper is rehabbing an ACL injury suffered during bowl practice.
Redshirt freshman Kelvin Rainey made the move to linebacker this spring from tight end, and redshirt sophomore Marcquis Roberts is at linebacker now after missing two straight seasons with injuries.
“T.J. Holloman is doing a good job,” linebackers coach Kirk Botkin. “He’s very smart, a very intellectual kid. He helps line up the defense. I’m putting him in there so he can set the front when he’s in there with some of the younger guys.”
Holloman made strides in winter workouts, increasing his bench press from 270 to 335 pounds. Botkin has told him to be vocal, lead by example and to be firm in making the play calls.
South Carolina signed four linebackers in the 2013 class with the pitch of an early playing opportunity. Those already on campus know how important the offseason and spring are for making a strong impression, Holloman said.
He called his redshirt year a humbling but necessary experience. There also was a lot of learning last year from seniors Shaq Wilson, Reginald Bowens, Quin Smith and Damario Jeffery.
And it’s all a head start for the increased competition that will be on campus this summer.
“Last summer I had no idea what to do. I was just out there running around and trying to make plays,” he said. “Now that you understand what to do, you can play even faster. The fact that I know how to play and what I’m supposed to do is really helping me out.”