The snag for Keisean Nixon was catching up.
The defensive back from Compton, California, joined the South Carolina football team well after August camp started. As a result, he was behind. For that reason, he didn’t play a defensive snap in the competitive portion of a game through the entire 2017 season.
And then he started Monday’s Outback Bowl against Michigan.
“It was big,” linebacker T.J. Brunson said. “Have somebody to come in and be able to do the same thing as whoever was in before him. It’s really big, and I’m looking forward to seeing him make more plays.”
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Nixon was a bit of an oddity. He wasn’t able to break into the corner rotation on a team that basically played Jamarcus King and Rashad Fenton every snap. But in reserve work during blowouts against Clemson and Arkansas, he had a pair of interceptions, one for a touchdown (he also got burned rather badly by the Razorbacks).
Nixon finished the day with a modest four tackles. He didn’t get notably burned.
His teammates noted he’d earned the chance, putting in the work and learning what he had to.
“He’s been practicing very well,” King said. “So that gave us the opportunity to rotate corners. He ended up learning his plays, doing everything right. He’s playing. In this system, you have to know what you’re doing. He’s catching on.”
The 5-foot-10, 192-pound Nixon was tried at both safety and corner, playing the latter most of this season. Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp suggested he could bring a little more physicality to the position.
He also allowed for some competition and rest against the Wolverines, creating a rotation USC hasn’t often seen in the past two seasons. King said he felt fresher throughout the game.
Nixon could have a prominent role next season. USC loses King and starting safeties Chris Lammons and D.J. Smith. The team has Fenton, freshman nickel Jamyest Williams and reliable utility defensive back Steven Montac back, but will have rotation spots to fill. The top options project to be Tavyn Jackson, a slew of freshmen and Nixon.
“He’s very talented,” linebacker Skai Moore said of Nixon. “We see it in practice all the time. He got his real opportunity today. And he showed up.
“It’s fun to see guys like that.”