The word for Shaq Roland last season was “potential.”
The then-freshman receiver from Lexington was a special athlete in high school, winning the state’s “Mr. Football” award and making the Parade All-America team. He was going to be a focus in South Carolina’s offense to start, then a mainstay. One day, he might even replace Kenny McKinley as the program’s career catch leader.
But it never caught on.
As a freshman, Roland tallied five catches for 80 yards and a touchdown — for the season. Roland never could stay on the field long enough to make an impact, and as USC went with its trio of short and fast receivers, there wasn’t a spot for the 6-foot-1 freshman.
Fast-forward a year. Bruce Ellington was hurting with a hamstring injury, and Roland got the call to start. Here was another chance, another opportunity to step forward.
On the third play of the season, Connor Shaw threw deep as Roland was in one-on-one coverage. Roland peeled away from his man, caught the pass in stride and he strutted into the end zone for a 65-yard touchdown grab.
“We recognized what coverages they ran,” Shaw said. “We were able to get behind them, and Shaq ran through it for a touchdown. It was exciting.”
Roland did drop a wide-open touchdown pass later on (the pass was low, but it hit a diving Roland in the hands and chest), but overall, he played a fine game. Although Ellington did play, and Damiere Byrd and Nick Jones also got in the act (Kane Whitehurst caught a touchdown), Roland’s presence gave USC another option.
Being an option after the disappointment of last year is a step that can’t be measured.
Hand him the Heisman
After one game, Dylan Thompson leads the NCAA in completion percentage, and if there’s a kept statistic for it, passes that went for touchdowns. He’s 1-for-1 in both, after tossing a 29-yard spiral to Whitehurst in the first quarter.
Freshman walk-on place-kicker Elliott Fry was aces in his collegiate debut, kicking field goals of 39 and 26 yards and being perfect on PATs. Landon Ard continued to kick off, and Tyler Hull continued to punt.
“He’s a very confident young man,” Steve Spurrier said of Fry.
Just like baseball
Drawing from the past two years at Carolina Stadium, Thursday’s lightning delay wasn’t surprising. The severe weather alerts and actions seem to follow USC like the plague.
USC drew solace that the result against North Carolina was far more pleasant than the Super Regional in Chapel Hill in June, which featured multiple delays and postponements.
USC’s game captains were Connor Shaw, A.J. Cann, Chaz Sutton and Brison Williams. USC is following its protocol of recent years and will elect permanent captains at midseason.
Turn up, get hyped
The “hype man” for the game was baseball coach Chad Holbrook. He took the microphone before the Gamecocks entered the stadium and led the crowd in the “Game-Cocks” cheer. Holbrook, a graduate of North Carolina, was treated to his two schools opening the football season after they nearly ended the baseball season last year.
Leading the horses
With the heat and humidity at its apex during warm-ups, USC stocked its sideline with extra water stations and fans. The Gamecocks had approximately three water holders (two hoses each) around each grouping of benchers.
“It’s something you can’t simulate in practice,” defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said.
Former USC coach Lou Holtz (1999-2004) was analyzing the game from the sidelines, three hours before kickoff. Steve Spurrier’s name on the northeast ramp of Williams-Brice Stadium provided a nice backdrop.