Entering this past Saturday’s game against Ole Miss, sophomore linebacker Damani Staley had appeared in nine career games for South Carolina, totaling three tackles after coming to the Gamecocks as a three-star prospect.
But injuries and fatigue meant Staley got extensive action against the Rebels, and he responded with five stops, tied for sixth most on the team. That’s part of coach Will Muschamp’s plan to get the young linebacker more snaps.
To this point, Staley has mostly been known to Gamecock fans as the son of Duce Staley, one of the best running backs in South Carolina program history and now a coach with the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles.
Unlike his dad, however, Damani has spent his football career on the defensive side of the ball, though his role there did change from high school to college. While at Ridge View High School, he was a pass rusher, lining up either as an outside linebacker or defensive end and racking up sacks at a torrid rate.
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At USC, he’s shifted to inside linebacker and a more versatile role. That move has taken time to master, he said, but after a year, he feels comfortable with where he’s at.
“It was a huge transition, because it was a little something I wasn’t used to at high school, I was always a pass rusher. I would say over a year I’ve gotten a lot better with it and adjusted to it,” Staley said.
The player Staley wants to pattern his game off of is former Gamecock Skai Moore, who spent more time grabbing interceptions and making tackles than collecting gaudy sack totals. And while Moore was putting the finishing touches on his historic college career last season, Staley was shadowing him, looking up to the veteran.
“I was always watching him throughout the practices and the games, and he was really my role model, because I was trying to learn all this new stuff with linebacker, all the plays and stuff, so I really watched him as the season went by,” Staley said.
The main lesson he learned from Moore?
“To stay calm, relax, just focus on every little detail, and just ball out,” Staley said.
As for his famous dad, Staley said the two aren’t able to spend too much time together in-season, but Duce has been able to teach Damani a few things, even at his new position.
“Most important thing he taught me was about using my hands, so a lot of time when he comes back home, he’ll show me a couple moves dealing with my hands,” Staley said.