Marcquis Roberts had company on the road from Power Springs, Ga., to Columbia.
Roberts and McEachern High teammate Rory Anderson signed with the Gamecocks in 2011. Their paths since arriving on campus have been anything but similar.
While Anderson played in all 26 games as a tight end and scored eight touchdowns the last two seasons, Roberts has struggled to be a permanent fixture in South Carolina's practices.
After missing the 2011 and 2012 seasons because of injuries, this spring gives Roberts a fresh – and healthy – start at linebacker.
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“This spring is pretty big for me. I feel like I have to prove myself,” Roberts said. “They’re not wasting a scholarship on me. I feel like I need to show them that.”
Roberts had a productive senior year in 2010 at McEachern, recording 86 tackles with six sacks. A torn labrum in his shoulder required surgery in the summer of 2011 and led to a medical redshirt. Then, as spring practice began in 2012, Roberts tore an ACL.
Family, coaches and teammates were all supportive during his rehab and recovery, he said. Watching Anderson excel also has motivated Roberts to get well and make an impact.
He returned to practice for scout team work in the second half of last season. This spring has offered the most reps yet for the 6-foot-1, 215-pound redshirt sophomore with the first- and second-string defense.
“It’s been going pretty good, trying to stay healthy and trying to stay positive,” said Roberts, who still experiences some soreness in his knee. “As long as I stay positive, I’ll be good.”
With Cedrick Cooper recovering from an ACL tear, Roberts is rotating with redshirt freshman and converted tight end Kelvin Rainey at the weakside linebacker spot.
As spring practice winds down, Roberts has the edge at the position, coaches said this week.
His scout team experience and time in the meeting room helped this spring, said linebackers coach Kirk Botkin.
“It’s not totally new to him like Rainey coming over is totally new,” Botkin said. “He’s heard the terminology and the verbage, so it’s not foreign to him. He’s been banged up but right now he’s in good health. He’s flying around and doing things we’re asking him to do.”
Coaches credited Roberts for his physicality.
“He’s playing the game the way I like for a linebacker to play it,” defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said. “He’s physical and he attacks the line of scrimmage.”
Roberts, who was recruited as a spur, said he has “a pretty good grasp” on his duties at linebacker. Botkin’s advice to Roberts has been to stay low and hustle. His positive approach to coaching rubs off on the linebackers, Roberts said.
That’s especially key for Roberts, who is looking to make a positive impression of his own.
“It’s been a long, hard road, but I know everything happens for a reason,” Roberts said. “Things are not given. You have to earn it. That’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to prove myself.”