USC Gamecocks Football

Gamecock freshman delivers a ‘light-it-up play’ in spring game debut

Muschamp offers spring assessment, shares his message to team for offseason

What South Carolina football coach Will Muschamp learned about the Gamecocks this spring.
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What South Carolina football coach Will Muschamp learned about the Gamecocks this spring.

South Carolina football needed more big plays from its linebackers both last year and going into next year. The coaches have been clear on this, and the eye test backs it up.

On Saturday, South Carolina’s newest linebacker delivered at least one moment that certainly matched the eye test.

In the late going of the annual spring game, a Dakereon Joyner-led offensive group had made it all the way down to the goal line. The young quarterback was handing off to 235-pound tailback Kevin Harris with only a few yards to cover to finish off the drive.

Then one of Harris’ freshman classmates stepped in.

“Derek Boykins on the goal line, for a freshman, that was a heck of a play,” Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp said. “To go up right there and light it up in the A-gap.”

On second down, after Harris had bowled his way inside the 5 on first down, Boykins drove into Harris in the hole, working around a pair of defensive tackles out of position at the snap.

On third down, he slipped past a double-teaming guard and stood the back up. On fourth down from the 1, Boykins stepped in, met Harris just behind the line of scrimmage and held him up for the stop.

On the day, he had six tackles and a quarterback hurry.

The 6-foot-1, 226-pound North Carolina product certainly looks the part of a college linebacker already. As a high school senior, he was productive with 117 tackles, six for loss, four sacks, three interceptions, three forced fumbles and five QB hurries, while helping out here and there on offense.

He did a little pass rushing, worked in coverage and impressed South Carolina’s staff through spring.

“He’s a physical, downhill, heavy-handed kid, who can do a lot of different things,” linebackers coach Coleman Hutlzer said. “He played running back in high school He played tight end. He did a lot, Wildcat quarterback.”

One thing he might not be doing in the short term is playing multiple spots.

Muschamp said early in spring that Boykins would get some work at weakside/dime linebacker, a position that asks more in terms of coverage and playing in space. But a few weeks later, Hutzler said he’s sticking to middle linebacker.

That matters because the most experienced Gamecocks linebacker is senior T.J. Brunson, a two-year starter and last year’s leading tackler. He missed the spring after surgery, giving sophomore Ernest Jones and Boykins more reps.

Without delving into questions of if Brunson could be a candidate to move over or if Sherrod Greene can make a jump after an inconsistent freshman season, Boykins could at least go part of the way toward answering South Carolina’s depth issues. At times last season, Green and especially Brunson were playing a monstrous amount of snaps.

Jones might help, as could Rosendo Louis, who played here and there as a freshman last season. Damani Staley took some steps, but Boykins showed upside and for the moment his position is locked in.

“The mid-year transition for a linebacker is tough,” Hutzler said. “There is a lot mentally thrown on our guys. So he’s continuing to work through that.”