South Carolina lost a lot of experience — and leadership — off it’s nationally ranked defense from a season ago.
The departures for D.J. Swearinger, Devin Taylor and a group of four senior linebackers led by Shaq Wilson have left a huge vocal void, but there are several players ready to take over that role.
New first-year defensive line coach Deke Adams expects Kelcy Quarles to be one of those guys.
“Kelcy is a guy that really wants to be good,” Adams said. “He’s working his behind off, doing a lot of great things. He understands what we need him to be for this defense. I’m excited about him and how hungry he is, wanting to get better each day.”
Quarles said Adams made it clear from the beginning that he expects a lot from the Greenwood junior.
“The first day of practice, he looked me dead in my face and said he wanted me to be a leader and to work hard and set the example,” Quarles said.
Quarles has the makeup to be one of those leaders this season. He was credited with 38 tackles, eight tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks in 11 games, missing the Florida and Tennessee games with injury. His 17 career starts rank third on the team — behind offensive lineman AJ Cann and quarterback Connor Shaw.
“This defense lost a lot of older guys that were leaders,” Adams said. “You’re always searching for leaders and in our group, I’m looking for leaders and I believe in Kelcy we have one. All of our older guys have done a great job. I challenge them every day.”
Quarles remembers two years ago when he transferred from Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy in time for spring practice. He looked up to guys such as Melvin Ingram and Travian Robertson, both of whom are in the NFL now, to provide him as much leadership as possible. He remembers the steep learning curve and he didn’t earn his first career start until the second half of his freshman season. He started the final six games of the year and he attributes a lot of that to what he learned from the older players.
He hopes to provide the Gamecocks’ young and inexperienced group with the same type of leadership.
“I look at myself in those guys’ shoes. I looked up to Travian and Melvin and now it’s my turn to lead,” Quarles said. “’I’m not just trying to be a vocal leader, I’m trying to do the right things on and off the field — going to class, coming out on the field and working hard every day no matter what is going on off the field. It’s the little things sometimes.”
The transition of learning under long-time assistant Brad Lawing to Adams has been relatively easy so far. Quarles has liked what he’s seen from Adams and believes things will be just fine in the fall.
“We have a new coach and a new atmosphere so a lot of things have changed but again at the end of the day, it’s still football,” Quarles said. “We have a chance to be a real good team and we feel good about it. Some of the older guys, coach Adams gives us a little more freedom. Right now in the spring, we’re just doing the base things, trying to make sure all the guys know what to do. I’m trying to help all the younger guys too. All of us were in that position where we were just starting off and trying to learn.”