Caleb Kinlaw made the choice to come home.
Then he found himself way down on the depth chart.
The former Wisconsin and junior college running back spent much of the season as the South Carolina’s No. 5 option. But Saturday, in the waning moments of the 31-10 win over Wofford, he shined when the chance came.
“He had a great week of practice,” starting tailback A.J. Turner said. “I feel like he’s really been learning, really been doing his job. He hasn’t really been saying, ‘Oh, I’ve not been playing, so I’m not going to do this.’ He’s had a really good attitude about it. So I commend him for that.”
Usually when a tailback gets mop-up duty in South Carolina’s offense, they make a few short runs, burn up the clock and close out a game. Kinlaw got a little bit more.
He took four carries, which went 5, 7, 8 and finally a 27-yarder on which he nearly scored. They were his first carries in a USC uniform and his first since September of 2015.
“It’s exciting,” Turner said. “Just knowing we’re all doing our jobs so we can get other people in the game. It’s a blessing to be able to see the growth in our room, starting from the beginning of the season. We had adversity. We had injuries, had a lot of different things.”
At season’s start, Turner, Rico Dowdle and Ty’Son Williams looked like a three-man rotation with Mon Denson and then Kinlaw behind them. Dowdle battled injuries and was then sidelined. Williams struggled in spots, and Denson took on a more prominent role.
Kinlaw became a relied-upon special teamer. He recovered an opening onside kick against Georgia and had played in nine of 10 games coming into Saturday.
He was once a 3-star tailback prospect, a prolific runner at Goose Creek. Saturday he got a taste of that life again.
“I told him if scored the ball, I was going to run on the field,” said defensive lineman Javon Kinlaw, Caleb’s cousin. “It was good seeing that.”