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Auguste follows Cook’s lead

University of South Carolina No. 21 Emanuel Cook and No. 3 Akeem Auguste celebrate a sack on University of Tennessee QB in the third quarter at Williams Brice Stadium in Columbia, SC on Sat. Nov. 1, 2008.
University of South Carolina No. 21 Emanuel Cook and No. 3 Akeem Auguste celebrate a sack on University of Tennessee QB in the third quarter at Williams Brice Stadium in Columbia, SC on Sat. Nov. 1, 2008. Erk Campos

You walk over to Akeem Auguste after practice, ready to ask him about the possibility of stepping in for Emanuel Cook. You know the Cook era is all but over in Gamecock football, and you are ready to talk to this young player about what could be the Auguste era.

And yet as you talk to the freshman defensive back, as you look him over, you can’t help but being reminded of ... Emanuel Cook.

They’re both undersized defensive backs. They’re both from Florida. They both speak softly but love to deliver big hits. They both have had academic problems.

South Carolina will accept the comparison, with the exception of Cook’s manner of leaving. Cook was the team’s leading tackler the past two seasons, and a ferocious hitter, but his next game likely will be in the NFL.

Cook’s career as a Gamecock likely is over, as he is academically ineligible for the Outback Bowl and likely will skip his senior season and enter the NFL draft.

That opens up a spot next season for Auguste, who also will miss the bowl game with a hamstring injury that has not healed (see practice report, Page C6).

Auguste had a solid freshman season, recording 18 tackles and four passes defended in four games. He started out the season as a cornerback, but has made what could be a temporary move to safety.

Auguste brings something else: Dion LeCorn and CC Whitlock are both converted receivers, while Auguste needs little on-the-job training.

“He’s a very natural at corner, he was very natural at safety, things just come kind of easy for him,” said USC assistant coach Shane Beamer, who coaches the cornerbacks. “He was kidding coach (Steve) Spurrier last weekend about using him on offense. ... He’s very natural, and whatever position we put him at he’s not going to back down from a challenge. I’m excited about what the future holds for him.”

Besides Cook, cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and safety Darian Stewart also are thinking about the draft. Whether they leave or not, the youngsters will see their roles expand next season.

“I can’t wait until next year,” said Auguste, who coaches say is more outwardly confident than his demeanor would indicate.

Auguste and Cook are about the same height, while Cook is a bit heavier. But both can pack a punch. An unfortunate Mississippi receiver found that out this season, as did an opponent in a high school championship two years ago. The video was posted on Rivals.com, as Auguste will proudly tell you.

“It was cover-2, I was playing corner, they did a swing pass to the running back, and they just lobbed it and I caught him. And I hit him,” Auguste said. “He was just laying there.”

That was about as animated as Auguste gets during a post-practice interview. He also backed up Cook, who has been criticized by fans, but Auguste still sees his fellow Floridian as a good teammate.

Auguste also can sympathize with the academic woes. He failed to qualify out of high school and spent a season at Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy. The fact that USC hung with him was the main reason he signed.

“He’s one of those guys, he’s got that cockiness and attitude, that swagger, whatever you want to call it,” Beamer said. “He may be a little undersized, and he is, but he doesn’t play that way. He’s tough, he’s physical, he thinks he’s the best player out there when he steps out on the field, and that’s the attitude you’ve got to have back there in the secondary.

“He’s a gamer, when the lights come on is when he steps up.”

Reach Emerson at (803) 771-8676.

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