South Carolina football coach Will Muschamp had to play so many freshmen in 2018, he had trouble remembering one of the most important ones as he listed them off.
The new redshirt rule factored in, as did a slew of injuries on the defense, but he played enough that slipping his mind was Jaycee Horn, a opening-day starter who had a case as the team’s best overall defender. So what does he take from Year 1 with a class that saw 15 scholarship true freshmen play, including six or seven in rotations by year’s end?
“I think it’s outstanding,” Muschamp said. “We really think we’ve hit on a lot of good players in this class.”
Only a few players – some offensive linemen, a backup receiver and a lineman who left the team – didn’t see the field. Four of the newcomers started.
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Muschamp ran through every freshman who played and gave a few thoughts.
▪ OT Dylan Wonnum: “Coming in and starting at right tackle in some of the venues he played in, and played extremely well.”
▪ WR Josh Vann: “A guy that’s been a real pleasant surprise for us, especially coming off shoulder surgery in January a year ago. He was really shut down through the spring, and not really being cleared to do much of anything until about July. Says a lot about his progress, his intelligence.”
▪ RB Deshaun Fenwick: “A young guy that’s really come along for us. Given his opportunities, we think he’s done very well.”
▪ RB Lavonte Valentine: “Has been a little bit injured, but a guy, when he’s had opportunities on the field, has done some nice things for us.”
▪ OG Hank Manos: “Has gotten a lot stronger in the weight room. Made tremendous strides as far as those things are concerned. Just in a practice setting has done some really nice things for us, and a guy that we’ve been really pleased with.”
▪ S R.J. Roderick: “A guy that really has been forced into action. Played really well and the game is slowing down for him. Very intelligent player and a guy that is going to continue to progress the right way.”
▪ QB Dakereon Joyner: “In his opportunities has done some really nice things for us. His command has continued to improve to where we want it to be.”
▪ DLs Rick Sandidge, Josh Belk, Kingsley “JJ” Enagbare: “JJ Played a fantastic game (against Akron), really got a lot of pressure on the quarterback. First third-down rush was outstanding. Those three guys are SEC defensive linemen. Probably were put in to more action than they needed to this year. On the front end of it, it was tough, but we’re going to certainly benefit from it as we continue to move forward.”
▪ LBs Ernest Jones, Rosendo Louis: “Both are SEC linebackers. Both guys are heavy-handed, smart and good communicators, guys that we’re excited about moving forward.”
▪ CB Israel Mukuamu: “Started at safety (against Akron). Shows the intelligence. Keisean (Nixon) gets banged up, he goes to corner and defended extremely well. … Really excited about him as well.”
▪ S Jonathan Gipson – “Has done some nice things.”
With the new redshirt rule, USC will get an extra year each for six freshmen who played and a junior college player, plus the batch that hasn’t yet seen the field.
The team still has a decision to make on Jones, who showed well the past three games but can’t redshirt if he plays in the Belk Bowl. But after Year 1 in the new system, Muschamp was pleased with how his team was able to handle things.
“I think we’ve pretty much managed it pretty well,” Muschamp said, “as far as those guys are concerned in guys that need the year back and guys that we felt like we needed to play.”
Belk Bowl info
Who: South Carolina (7-5) vs. Virginia (7-5)
Where: Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina
When: Noon Dec. 29