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Maddox runs to close gap on stardom

Brian Maddox’s nature is just to be this way. He has never been much for niceties, never scared to say exactly what he might be thinking.

It was that way two years ago, when the subject was why Maddox chose South Carolina over Clemson, which was a short drive from his Anderson home.

It was that way last year, when USC coaches mulled redshirting him. And so far it’s that way going into next season, as Maddox refuses to defer to the more experienced tailback, Mike Davis.

“Nobody deserves it until the best player shows up,” Maddox said this week. “I’m just trying to be the best player on the offense, help contribute a lot.”

Some would assume that Maddox meant he would be “the best player” he could be for the offense. But with Maddox, he almost certainly meant he wanted to be THE best player, despite being a sophomore who played sparingly last season.

“He wants to be one of the best ones that ever came through here,” running backs coach Robert Gillespie said. “So it’s a joy coaching someone who wants to be great.”

That still may have to wait a year, at least until Maddox can secure a starting position. While the injured Davis has missed most of spring practice, Maddox has gotten most of the first-team snaps. But Gillespie said Davis still has the edge.

“These 15 days of spring ball, it’s a lot to ask him to make ground on a guy that’s been playing for four years,” Gillespie said. “Has he surpassed him? No. But has he closed the gap a little bit for being a guy that if something happens to Mike or we have to get ready to play two guys, I think he’s closed that gap.”

It may help Maddox’s cause that his running style resembles Cory Boyd, the departed senior who shared carries last year with Davis. Both Maddox and Boyd are “after-contact guys,” according to Gillespie, so it could be Maddox can be a change-of-pace back for the Gamecocks.

Of course Boyd’s presence, along with Davis, was the reason Maddox got so few carries as a freshman. He only carried six times, all in the first three games, and played mostly on special teams the rest of the way.

Maddox resisted redshirting, and looking back said he was glad he at least got the experience of traveling with the team. But during the season it was tough. He had regular conversations with T.L. Hanna High School teammate Cameron Ford, a tight end who was sitting out last year at Wake Forest.

“He said he was sick, he wanted to be out there on the field, and I said I was the same way,” Maddox said. “It’s tough waiting your turn.”

Gillespie admitted it was a tough decision not to redshirt Maddox. But the coaches eyed the depth chart and knew 2008 would be the year he would play, and they didn’t want day-to-day stuff — traveling, understanding the gameplan, being in big stadiums — to be new to him.

“I wish we could’ve got him more snaps, I always say, but we just couldn’t,” Gillespie said. “He’s gonna be a guy who’s going to play a lot for us this year. And hopefully for him traveling and understanding the game, knowing the speed of it, won’t be something new to him come N.C. State.”

The spotlight isn’t really new to Maddox. He starred last year on the ESPN show “Summer House,” which showed high-profile prep seniors living together.

He wasn’t afraid to stir the pot on the show, or before that when he chose USC over Clemson, whom he grew up rooting for. (Maddox said Clemson was late recruiting him, and he wasn’t comfortable anyway with their coaches. Tiger fans point out their team also had James Davis and C.J. Spiller.)

“I say what I feel,” Maddox said. “I’m going to be straight-up honest with you. That’s how I am.”

Reach Emerson at (803) 771-8676.