Cory Helms has never pulled a South Carolina football jersey over his pads and stepped onto the field for a live game.
Yet as a redshirt junior he’s experienced more than most players, with a background that fits particularly well with South Carolina’s current state.
“I also went through a coaching change at Wake Forest” Helms said. “It was sort of similar to where everything is a complete 180 from how it was before, and the guys who stay and fight through it and are tough are the guys that are going to do well.”
Helms, from Alpharetta, Ga., was recruited by Jim Grobe’s staff with the Demon Deacons. Grobe retired, Dave Clawson came in, and after a year, Helms made the move to Columbia. In the year he had to sit out, he watched Steve Spurrier give way to Shawn Elliott, his own position coach, and finally to Will Muschamp and a new administration.
That makes five coaches before Helms starts year four of college.
Through it all, the 6-foot-4, 306-pound Helms is happy he’ll have a chance to get back on the field after his mandatory transfer season.
“It’s definitely a lot nicer knowing I’m actually playing for something,” Helms said. “Not just sort of a practice dummy. Definitely made me more hungry.”
He started 23 of 24 games in Winston-Salem, and now he’ll have to help shore up a Gamecocks front that had its share of struggles last season. The unit that lost three starters helped the team average 4.4 yards per carry, 11th in the SEC.
Helms was denied a waiver that would have let him be part of that group, and his teammates felt the loss.
“I was excited when Cory first got here,” tailback David Williams said. “I was kind of bummed because I thought he was going to play last year. I’m glad to have him.”
He started the spring working at right guard, but also split time at No. 2 center.
His presence could give the Gamecocks a solid base in the middle of the line. Center Alan Knott has started 17 games the past two years at center, and left guard Zack Bailey, a highly-touted prospect who earned SEC All-Freshman honors while getting thrown into the fire a season ago.
“Cory’s a huge help,” left tackle Mason Zandi said. “I wish we could have had him last year. Cory, that’s my dog right there. He’s out there hustling every day.”
Zandi actually lives with Helms and Knott, and the group is a close off the field.
He’ll have to develop the continuity with teammates that’s vital for a line, things such as negotiating combo blocks and working off one another. Helms said having line coach Shawn Elliott retained helps, and the staff sees value in having his experienced hand.
“That’s huge,” offensive coordinator Kurt Roper said. “He’s a guy who knows how to play the game. He knows the physicalness of this game, the speed of this game. And any time you can fall back on a guy with those types of number of reps, it’s important.”
The offensive front actually has a decent number of reps returning, with two starters and a pair of reserves forced into spot starts. Coach Will Muschamp said the offensive line has been ahead of the defensive line early in the spring.
It helps having a seasoned hand inside, someone who has seen a lot in a relatively short college career. The Georgian also adds one extra element for the Gamecocks.
“I’m dirty,” Helms said. “I’ll get in fights in practice ... It’s not that, it’s just setting the tempo, being the first one to hit them. Then you set the tempo for the game, that’s it.”