As Rico Dowdle languished on the sideline, Hayden Hurst waited and wondered.
Hurst was wondering if everyone else knew what he thought he knew.
“At first, guys didn’t know how valuable he was, but I was kind of sitting back thinking, ‘Man, when this kid gets healthy, he’s gonna add a new dimension to our offense,’ ” South Carolina’s sophomore tight end said of the Gamecocks freshman running back.
Hurst’s belief came from a single play in informal winter workouts.
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“He made one cut off one of our linebackers, and I kind of stood back and told Perry (Orth), ‘He’s gonna be special,’ ” Hurst said.
The rest of the Gamecocks would have to wait a while to see the wisdom in Hurst’s prediction because of a groin injury suffered by Dowdle during preseason practice in August. The injury kept him out of the final three weeks of camp and the first four games of the season.
By the time Dowdle got healthy, he was almost an afterthought for South Carolina’s offense. That didn’t last long.
He made his collegiate debut against Texas A&M on Oct. 1, gaining 47 yards on nine carries, and he was starting the next week. Dowdle’s breakout game came last week against Tennessee when the 5-foot-11, 211-pound Asheville, N.C., native gained 127 yards on 27 carries.
“We felt very comfortable that he was going to be a very good player,” head coach Will Muschamp said. “I don’t think you ever know until you play on game day. You just never know how quickly the maturation process takes place, and when they're ready to go. But there was no doubt that we felt like in camp that he was going to be a really good football player.”
Saturday’s opponent, Missouri, has the worst rushing defense in the SEC. The Tigers allow 240 yards per game on the ground and have allowed at least one 100-yard rusher in each of the last four games.
Dowdle has 59 carries for 291 yards and three touchdowns on the season. He was not available to comment about his season due to Muschamp’s rule barring true freshmen from speaking to the media.
“He’s electric back there,” Hurst said. “Whenever he touches the ball, he can score from anywhere on the field.”
Dowdle slipped under the recruiting radar despite being named a PARADE All-American at A.C. Reynolds High School. He was a three-star prospect who had scholarship offers from Vanderbilt, Charlotte, N.C. State, Boston College and Appalachian State when he committed to South Carolina in January.
Dowdle, who was being recruited by offensive line coach Shawn Elliott before Muschamp was hired, committed one month after Muschamp was hired.
“When I first took the job, we spent a lot of time in the film room going through all the guys, and he was a guy that you saw the athleticism, you saw the explosiveness, you saw the change in direction,” Muschamp said. “In high school, your best athlete, you want to put the ball in his hands every snap, and that’s what they did.”
Getting to know Rico
Five things to know about USC freshman running back Rico Dowdle:
1. Best ever
His coach at A.C. Reynolds High in Asheville, N.C., says Dowdle is the best high player he has ever coached.
2. Parade team
He was named to the Parade All-America team after having more than 4,000 yards of total offense and 63 TDs.
3. QB, too
He played quarterback his senior year and led A.C. Reynolds to an 11-2 record. They averaged 49 points per game.
4. Runs, catches
He showed his versatility in the Shrine Bowl, rushing for 19 yards and a TD and catching five passes for 48 yards and a TD.
5. USC fan
He grew up in Gaffney and was a USC fan before moving. He wanted to be like Marcus Lattimore and Jadeveon Clowney.