As his teammates prepared for the 2012 season, Kendric Salley waited.
While the Gamecocks built a 10-2 record on the field, Salley ran, trained and rehabbed his surgically repaired right knee from the sidelines.
Then, on Dec. 15 as South Carolina prepared for its first practice for the Outback Bowl, he got the news he was waiting for: It's time to suit up.
"It was my first time in pads in over a year," Salley said. "I had butterflies. I got that out of me and I feel like myself now."
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With those bowl workouts and a full spring practice under his belt, Salley's career at South Carolina is under way in earnest.
The 5-foot-9, 215-pounder partially tore his ACL in late September of his senior season in 2011 at Williston-Elko High. Salley continued to play as much as he could, rushing for 1,198 yards and 21 touchdowns on 139 carries. Surgery followed that December.
Salley continued to rehab this knee after he arrived at South Carolina last summer. He worked a minimum of 90 minutes a day, five days a week to get his legs back to full strength.
"My goal was to be healthy and be out here," he said. "I accomplished that. Everything else came along."
Running backs coach Everett Sands saw improvement in Salley over spring practice, particularly with finishing his runs. The redshirt freshman needs to get better with pass protection, Sands said.
"He's in the learning phase," Sands said, "and he's much better now than he was at the beginning. Does he have it all? No, he doesn't have it all fully grasped yet, but he's a lot better than he was."
Salley rushed for more than 5,000 yards and 90 touchdowns during his career at Williston-Elko High. He grew up wanting to play for the Gamecocks and was the first to commit to USC for the class of 2012, making his pledge in December of 2010.
It took more than two years from that commitment before Salley would carry the ball in a South Carolina practice. The spring began with spurts here and there, and Salley said he could tell he was feeling and doing better the last week of practice.
"It's been a long time since I've been fully padded," he said. "I'm taking advantage of it, enjoying the game, getting back to what I love. I can't take it for granted."
Salley had a team-high 14 carries for 50 yards in the spring game, including a five-yard touchdown. He left the spring No. 3 on the depth chart behind Mike Davis and Brandon Wilds, but the competition will heat up this summer.
Signees David Williams and Jamari Smith are on campus for summer workouts, and redshirt sophomore Shon Carson returns from the baseball team.
"The big thing that's the big unknown is Shon Carson," Sands said. "Then the two freshmen coming in, but moreso Shon Carson. He's been in the system. He was here ready for bowl game, so mentally he's probably a little bit ahead of Kendric. Now, he hasn't been in it all year so we have to wait. It's going to be a good battle."
Salley said he's prepared for that battle and won't settle for being the team's third or fourth tailback.
"The main goal is that all of us want the same thing," he said. "All of us want playing time. All of us want to win. Competition is going to bring the best out of all of us."