Making the leap from being king of a high school to student at a large college isn’t easy. But for two new Gamecocks, there was the little speed bump after getting tossed into the fray of college football.
Defensive linemen Keir Thomas and Kobe Smith made the jump, thrown into college level trenches after enrolling early when most are winding down high school.
It isn’t new to defensive line coach Lance Thompson, who has been in his field for nearly three decades and seen more than a few make that transition.
“Those two guys, for high school kids that came in at mid-term, I don’t think I’ve ever been more pleased with two young guys,” Thompson said. “That’s not easy coming in, just as a student, and then to come in, play D-line, which is more difficult because the closer you get to the ball, the harder it is to play because it’s more the physical nature of the game.”
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Both players were considered strong recruits, and both committed after the new staff arrived.
Thomas was a three-star prospect who had been committed to Florida State and had 20 sacks his senior season. The 6-foot-2, 250-pounder got some work as a second team defensive end in the spring.
Smith, 6-4, 295 pounds, was a late commit after dropping a pledge to Kentucky.
Thompson praised the young players’ work on the field, and in adapting to college classrooms.
“Those guys did a really nice job, and they both did good academically,” Thompson said. “Kobe had a 3.8 I believe. And I think Keir was over 2.5, so both came in, really diligent in the way they handled their business.”
Both could have roles in fixing a defensive line that has struggled the past two seasons. A unit that once featured All-Americans and NFL Draft picks hasn’t produced at an above-average rate, and the players behind them have suffered.
Smith and Thomas both improved as the spring wore on. They made the jump, took their lumps and showed promise.
“I was really pleased with them,” Thompson said. “Not to say they’re close to where they need to be, but that’s a difficult transition for a defensive lineman and they did a really good job.”