Why South Carolina’s Eric Wolford reached for another starter to fill USC’s left tackle spot
Dylan Wonnum got to do a lot of what the most optimistic college freshman might hope as he went through last season.
No, he didn’t open his true freshman season as a starter on the offensive line, but he finished it that way for South Carolina football. That’s at the position where it’s hardest for young players to break in and overall he more than held his own.
“Anytime you can play offensive line in the SEC as a true freshman, that’s pretty impressive,” said sixth-year guard Donell Stanley.
One might imagine it wasn’t the most difficult thing. He didn’t have to wait, as many players do. He’d been a very good high school player and quickly translated to being a solid college player.
But that wasn’t the case.
“It was hard,” Wonnum said. “It was a very hard experience. Football is a very developmental sport. But all in all, it was good. I liked the season overall.”
It wasn’t the plays that were difficult, but the technique, the finer points of the position.
Offensive line is a spot where technique, details, small things often make a player’s career. In high school, being bigger, stronger and more athletic usually lets a player get away with a lot, so those habits and skills are often painstakingly built by college line coaches.
With that in mind, the staff didn’t go right in with him despite showing promise in camp.
“Once you’ve started seven games in this league, you should be ready to go,” Gamecocks offensive line coach Eric Wolford said. “That was really part of the process of waiting to not start him right off the bat was there’s just so many things you’ve got to learn, especially at this level.
“Dylan is going to continue to progress.”
Wonnum got into his first game in garbage time, and then didn’t see the field again until he was thrust in to spell the starter against Texas A&M.
After a bye week, the staff informed him the job was his.
“I was shocked,” Wonnum said. “It didn’t seem real at first. I was just like, OK, I’m still going to be on the sidelines. But then, when the time actually came, I was like oh, OK, like it’s time to go.”
That first start, under the lights at Williams-Brice against Tennessee, wasn’t easy either.
“I was very nervous,” Wonnum said. “I was just thinking about my technique.
“My technique took me through it.”
He had a solid game and was decent the rest of the way. He helped the Gamecocks offense to a strong finish to the season, and headed into the offseason as the only proven commodity the team has at offensive tackle.
When he got the job, Stanley remembers a player who didn’t seem to be gunning for any spot, but just focused on the immediate things being asked.
“He was just doing his thing.” Stanley said. “He was getting comfortable with the system, learning the plays, just getting out of the high school mindset, being more like a college football player.”
Wolford said he liked what the former four-star recruit did in the weight room this offseason and the progress he’s made.
For the moment, it appears he won’t be making the flip to left tackle, the marquee spot on the line.. Guard Sadarius Hutcherson is moving back outside, filling the left tackle spot Dennis Daley left, and the staff seems confident in that choice.
But Wonnum could well end up there before it’s all said and done.
“Right now, I wouldn’t say I’m necessarily content,” Wonnum said. “But I’m at the right tackle spot right now. We work every spot in practice, so it’s not like I just don’t know it.”
He’s now going through his first offseason on campus, his first spring practice. Most freshman linemen like him are coming off a year of standing on sidelines and getting most of their work in the weight room.
He has film to go over, experience to break down and learn from. South Carolina likely needs more from its line next season, especially on the ground, but Wonnum is a sure piece of that puzzle.
“The best is yet to come with that guy,” Wolford said.