South Carolina, like most college football teams in the country, has a senior council, a group of fourth- and fifth-year players who preside over the locker room in a variety of roles.
The veterans are responsible for supplying a team motto each season, setting penalties for minor transgressions on the practice field and listing the season’s goals, among other things.
The Gamecocks’ seniors don’t need a big room this year. A closet would suit even given the outsized dimensions of some of the players.
South Carolina has fewer seniors than any college football team in the country with five: cornerback Jimmy Legree, offensive lineman Ronald Patrick, quarterback Connor Shaw, defensive end Chaz Sutton and walk-on wide receiver David Wilkins.
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“You know, it is interesting,” South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. “We had so many fifth-year guys last year and then a few third-years left. It was a combination of all of that. It just happened that way.”
Junior college signees, academic casualties and transfers also played a role.
The Gamecocks’ 2009 and 2010 recruiting classes featured 51 players. Of the 15 who still are on the team, 11 were members of the 2010 signing class who are juniors due to a redshirt or delayed enrollment. Eleven transferred or left USC with eligibility remaining, eight played their full four years, seven were junior college signees, seven did not qualify and three (Marcus Lattimore, Ace Sanders and Alshon Jeffery) were early entrants into the NFL Draft.
“I really haven’t thought about it,” Patrick said. “I mean, we know there are only four or five of us, but we have a lot of players, underclassmen and juniors that can fill the roles. It’s not really about the class. It’s just coming out here with who you have.”
The seniors have recruited help from the junior class to fill their governing body, Patrick said. Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, safety Brison Williams and cornerback Vic Hampton all participate in the senior’s meetings, he said.
“We’ve got enough older guys, and junior guys are like seniors almost nowadays anyway,” Spurrier said. “Clowney, we treat him like a senior. It’s not that big a deal.”
The Gamecocks don’t look like a particularly young team on their depth chart. Only six underclassmen are expected to start on offense or defense when South Carolina plays North Carolina on Thursday night in Williams-Brice Stadium.
One of those, sophomore middle linebacker Kaiwan Lewis, says South Carolina’s underclassmen have tried to take some of the leadership burden off the senior class by not needing as much attention.
“Being in the Mike linebacker spot, I feel like I have to step up and carry more of a leadership role on my shoulders so the older guys can depend on me,” Lewis said.
After addressing the scarcity of seniors, Spurrier promised not to use it as an excuse later in the season.
“I’m not going to talk about a young team,” he said, “because you have all these coaches, they lose a few games and they talk about how young their team is.”
WHO WENT WHERE
What happened to the players who might have been seniors this season:
SENIORS: OL Ronald Patrick; QB Connor Shaw
EARLY NFL ENTRANTS: RB Marcus Lattimore; WR Ace Sanders
REDSHIRTED, JUNIOR ON TEAM: OL A.J. Cann; P Patrick Fish; OL Cody Gibson; S Sharrod Golightly; CB Victor Hampton; WR Nick Jones; OL Corey Robinson; DT J.T. Surratt; QB Dylan Thompson; S Brison Williams
DELAYED ENROLLMENT, JUNIOR ON TEAM: DT Kelcy Quarles
JUNIOR COLLEGE: LB Qua Gilchrist; DT Byron Jerideau
TRANSFERRED: CB Cadarious Sanders; TE Corey Simmons; OL Tramell Williams
DID NOT QUALIFY: WR Javon Bell; LB Brandon Golson; OL Du’Von Millsap
S Chris Payne:
SENIORS: CB Jimmy Legree; DE Chaz Sutton
EARLY NFL ENTRANT: WR Alshon Jeffery
PLAYED FOUR YEARS: TE Justice Cunningham; DE Aldrick Fordham; CB Stephon Gilmore; LB Chaun Gresham; S DeVonte Holloman; LB Damario Jeffery; LB Quin Smith; S D.J. Swearinger
GRADUATED: QB Andrew Clifford
INJURY ENDED CAREER: LB Matt Coffee
JUNIOR COLLEGE: OL Ronald Byrd; LB Josh Dickerson; DE Leon Mackey; OL Steven Singleton; LB Tony Straugther
TRANSFERRED: S Corey Addison; OL Nick Allison; WR DeMario Bennett; RB Jarvis Giles; WR Lamar Scruggs; WR DeAngelo Smith
DID NOT QUALIFY: RB Ben Axon; DE Duane Chisolm; WR Charles Holmes; S Chris Payne