One might look at five-star South Carolina commitment Zacch Pickens’ stats and get a little worried at the sack numbers, only five for one of the top recruits in the land.
But if they shift their eyes over to the tackle numbers, something pops out, and the explanation behind it tells something about what the Gamecocks will get in the 6-foot-5, 283-pounder from T.L. Hanna.
Some five-stars will rest on their laurels. They’ll rely on talent, run hot and cold in terms of effort. But opponents aren’t giving Pickens anything easy. So he’s had to work in different ways.
Heading into Friday’s state title game against Dutch Fork, he leads Hanna in tackles with 82. This stands out for several reasons.
First, few defensive linemen lead a team in tackles. Second, he often doesn’t play that much (11 plays in one game) because Hanna is winning games by 34.8 points a game. Lastly, teams are doing everything possible to not let the play get to the big man with a big reputation.
“He’s made the most of his opportunities,” Yellow Jackets coach Jeff Herron said. “I don’t think there’s been a pass attempted this year that they haven’t double-teamed him. Everybody has changed how they’re blocking him in passing situations. Nobody runs to his side. So he’s leading the team in tackles, catching people from behind usually.”
That’s wheeling off double teams, triple teams and pursuing downfield. That’s finding the angles and flat out chasing folks down.
Few top linemen are doing it consistently, let alone ones in the 280-pound range. But Pickens likes doing it.
“I want every single tackle,” Pickens said. “If you’ve got the ball, I want to tackle you. And that’s like the best thing I like to do is tackle. My favorite thing to do.”
He’s also been a force in the run game in limited use, averaging 8.9 yards a carry with 21 touchdowns, one every 4.5 carries.
He’ll enter a crowded room with South Carolina’s defensive line. USC is set to return its top four end/Bucks (D.J. Wonnum, Aaron Sterling, Shameik Blackshear, Brad Johnson) and the top six interior linemen (Javon Kinlaw, Keir Thomas, Kobe Smith, Rick Sandidge, Kingsley Enagbare, Josh Belk).
At his size, with the potential to get bigger, he projects as an inside player, assuming the staff continues moving big ends there, as Thomas, Enagbare and injured freshman Tyreek Johnson did. But Herron still feels he has the ability to perhaps be an edge rusher (Pickens plays a lot of end in three-man lines in high school).
Herron has him for one more game, and appreciates the motor a player already blessed with talent has shown, even in situations that would frustrate many players.
“You see somebody his size running that fast, it can be intimidating.” Herron said. “I wouldn’t want to be on the other side of that, I’ll assure you.”