Asked about Skai Moore at SEC Media Days in July, South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp rattled off almost every positive adjective imaginable for a defensive football player.
“Experience, athleticism, speed, instinctive and tough,” the Gamecocks’ second-year head coach said. “Those would be the words that first come to mind.”
Moore, a senior linebacker, can add “history maker” to that list this season. If he leads South Carolina in tackles – a distinct possibility given his ability, experience and role on the defense – he will become the first Gamecock to do that in all four years of collegiate career. He would be just the 15th player in Division I history to do it.
“He’s a playmaker, and a guy we’re really excited about,” Muschamp said. “Really excited to see him play this fall.”
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It will be the first time Muschamp has gotten to see Moore on the field for his team. Moore missed the 2016 season after having neck surgery to repair a herniated disc. During his rehabilitation, he considered giving up his final year of eligibility to enter the NFL Draft before eventually deciding to return to South Carolina.
His teammates are happy he did.
“Whenever you get somebody like Skai Moore to come back and play with you, he’s a great leader and a great player and just somebody great to be around,” senior defensive lineman Ulric Jones said.
Moore, a 6-foot-2, 225-pounder from Cooper City, Fla., had 56 tackles in 2013, 93 in 2014 and 111 in 2015. He has 12.5 career tackles-for-loss and 11 career interceptions. He has had at least three interceptions every year of his career, and if he does that again, he will tie or break Bo Davies’ school record of 14 this year.
“The young man has been through a tremendous year and a half of adversity, battling through the injury, battling through a coaching change, battling through the decision on going to the NFL,” Muschamp said. “I think he made a very mature decision to come back to South Carolina. He had a very good offseason and a very good spring, probably the best summer he has had since he’s been at South Carolina.”
Moore will start at weakside linebacker in Muschamp’s defensive system. It’s the same spot he played his junior year, but it looks a little different in this system, he said.
“In this defense, I am more in space,” he said. “Just allowed to run around a little more and use my versatility and my athleticism in this type of defense. You will see me doing a lot of stuff you probably haven’t seen me do in the past, so I am excited about that.”
That will include covering pass routes, rushing the quarterback and everything in between, he said.
“Hopefully, I can blitz a little more in this defense,” Moore said. “That’s what we see a lot of so far. Hopefully I will be able to keep that role.”
Moore’s versatility will allow the Gamecocks to use more of their defensive package than they did a year ago, defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson said.
“He can do multiple things, and we will use him all over the field,” Robinson said. “He will be able to help us in a lot of different ways.”
Moore will join middle linebacker T.J. Brunson and strongside linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams to give the Gamecocks their best linebacker corps in recent memory.
“It’s a lot of talent between us three,” Moore said. “We are going to run around and hit. I think we have a lot of talent and it’s going to be a special year at linebacker for us.”
Skai’s the limit
After redshirting in 2016 while rehabbing from a surgically-repaired herniated disk, senior linebacker Skai Moore is back and could become the first Gamecock to lead the team in tackles in four seasons, a feat that has been done just 14 times in NCAA Division I history. A look at his numbers: