D.J. Park returned to South Carolina this month with a bit of a head start on his fellow true freshmen who are showing up in Columbia for the first time.
The offensive lineman enrolled midyear out of Dillon High School and has 15 official practices under his belt. He also has four months of finding his way around the South Carolina campus and learning to live a new life away from home.
"I'm happy I went early," he said. "Now I know a lot of things that would have had to learn in the summer. I went ahead and got everything out of the way."
Park returned to campus in June after a month back home in Dillon, where he visited with family and friends, and worked out and visited with old teammates at Dillon High.
"It's relaxing to get out of the city and come back to the country and not be worried with something," he said at a recent Dillon High spring practice.
A consensus four-star prospect out of Dillon High School, Park started out at guard with the Gamecocks this spring before moving to tackle after Cody Gibson was injured. He played almost the entire spring game.
The 6 a.m. Friday runs during winter workouts were particularly challenging, he said, but enrolling early met his overall expectations -- and "probably exceeded them."
"I think I did OK," Park said. "I would have liked to do better than I did. For just being able to go in there and learn as quick as I did, I think I did OK."
Was offensive line coach and recruiter Shawn Elliott as advertised in practice? Yes, Park said.
"He's the same person all around," he said. "He yells a little bit more but he's the same guy you pretty much see every day."
This summer, USC's offensive linemen will gather to work out just like quarterbacks and receivers get together to work on passing and catching. Linemen work on techniques, including drills they'll see when practice resumes.
Park will be joined by former and future teammate Bryce King, who will be in Columbia in July. King played tackle in high school and is projected as a center in college.
"I tried to give him a heads up," Park said. "I gave him a lot of advice to tell him how things work and what to look for and how practice goes."
The Dillon duo will be joined by three other offensive linemen from the class of 2013: Na'Ty Rodgers (Pomfret, Md.), Alan Knott (Tyrone, Ga.) and J.P. Vonashek (Kingsland, Ga.).
Park is trying to drop some weight. He weighs 325 now and wants to be closer to 300, a weight he hasn't seen since the 10th grade.
When he first got to Columbia, Park was burdened by a new daily schedule, learning how things work, and just trying to find some free time. Now that he's back, he won't have to worry about those things. Now he can concentrate on working out and making progress.
"I'm still learning," Park said. "I've got to lose some weight, get faster, get better, get to know the plays better."