It’s all about overcoming the struggle. Things are going bad, situations get difficult, a man has to bow up and face them, not yield to them. Anything can be overcome.
Jimmy Legree knows that. He knows it probably more than anyone. It’s why when No. 12 South Carolina’s defense, of which he is a starting cornerback, was struggling early in the year, struggling to lock down what began as a rout of Vanderbilt, he had to show his teammates how to overcome it.
His end-zone interception sealed the game and he hopes kick-started a senior year that was going along rather nicely already. After three games, Legree is tied with several other SEC players for second in the conference with four tackles for loss, and has begun to shed the “quiet leader” tag that’s hovered over him since he signed with the Gamecocks.
“I think in the past, Jimmy’s been one of those guys,” quarterback Connor Shaw said. “Quiet, humble, leads by the way he plays on the field. But I think through the offseason, coming into this season, he’s been more of a vocal guy on the defense, and that’s something that we have to have.”
It was a struggle for Legree to start being more vocal, to raise the soft-spoken voice and to deliver a kick to the rear end to people he considered his brothers. What made it easier for him was remembering his past, and what he hopes to do in his future.
“Coming from where I’m from, St. Helena Island, I never really had much,” Legree said. “My mother, she had four kids, raised them on her own, basically. My father passed when I was 12 years old. Watching her struggle with the kids, is not anything I liked.”
Growing up in tough circumstances gave Legree an iron-hard will, one that he uses every day in his quest to be a better player and a better person. He won’t preach it — Tuesday might have been the first time in his five years that he mentioned his upbringing — but he practices with it.
Already graduated from USC, Legree hopes to turn his childhood into his profession if football doesn’t work out at the next level.
“I just want to help every kid out there have a fair opportunity,” he said. “I want to start a program to help kids that come from bad backgrounds, ghetto homes. Have them get a fair chance at life to be successful.”
Legree got that chance and used it. A player who worked his way first onto the field, then as a sometime starter, then as a full-time starter, Legree had 44 tackles and three interceptions this past season. He has added to those numbers this year while trying to be more of a bombastic presence in the defensive huddle.
Nobody will take the place of D.J. Swearinger, whose legend grows with each messy defensive series. USC has some candidates who, combined, might be able to equal that. But they can’t have four or five voices trying to out-shout each other in the huddle.
Legree knows it, and tries to be the one voice that’s heard and followed.
“We all look up to Jimmy,” linebacker Marcquis Roberts said. “He always comes ready to work every day.”
The bye week and preparation for UCF on Saturday has kept Legree busy, encouraging and teaching how to get better. Everyone associated with the defense knows that it’s a learning process — nothing is going to make the Gamecocks’ youthful core receive 20 more games of experience overnight — but everyone also knows that the more they can teach the young players, the higher the chances get for it to pay off.
That’s Legree’s goal, every day, every series. Impart something. If he’s got to bring up his personal struggle to relate to a defensive struggle, so be it.
“My time at USC has been great, it’s been wonderful.” Legree said. “I’ve seen a lot, witnessed a lot, came a long way. But yep, this is my senior year, and actually, I’m looking forward to the next step in my life.”