‘Come be the first, not the next,’ Muschamp tells recruits
Fans by nature want to see what’s new. They want to see the next great hope. It’s the same reason when things are going wrong, there’s a call for a change. Something different could be good, but not if it’s hidden behind the player’s we’ve already seen.
This is an undercurrent that runs through nearly every fanbase in the sport. It often burns most brightly around quarterback, a spot where by nature only one player really sees the field. And at a Spurs Up tour stop, USC coach Will Muschamp found himself explaining the rationale behind not letting those guys you might want to see get loose just yet.
“We’re going to make decisions as coaches,” Muschamp said. “At that position along with every other position on what it’s going to take to win ballgames. Would you love to get a young player an opportunity whether it’s quarterback, defensive end, receiver and give them an opportunity to get playing time? Absolutely. But if it’s going to risk winning the game, then it’s probably not a pretty good thing to do.”
He’d been asked about when the world might see the talents of the young four-star passers behind senior Jake Bentley. Dakereon Joyner is a dynamic athlete and can make plays running, while Ryan Hilinski, a top-50 recruit in the 2019 cycle, showed his ability to sling short, accurate passes in the spring game.
Right now, they’re working behind Bentley, a longtime starter and one of the most productive passers in program history. But he has been inconsistent and struggled with turnover issues at times, meaning the team success hasn’t quite matched the wave of expectations that built at the start of his career.
The Gamecocks are a few weeks removed from the end of spring practice, and while that lays the groundwork for who might play, (a season ago, Muschamp said spring make the staff confident R.J. Roderick would see the field) it’s not where most of the choices solidify.
“I can’t make that decision right here on April 25 or 26 or whatever it is,” Muschamp said. “We’ve got to go through training camp, and we make a decision after the second scrimmage at all positions, not just at quarterback. Can this guy play on game day? Can this guy help us win the game?”
The Gamecocks haven’t been shy through the years about playing young players should they check that box. Players such as Rick Sandidge, Jaycee Horn, Israel Mukuamu, Dylan Wonnum and Roderick were in real roles as true freshmen last season. The likes of Bryan Edwards, Bentley, OrTre Smith, Shi Smith and more have done it in past seasons.
Muschamp explained the training camp atmosphere helps separate players. The coach believes in practice as an indicator, and thus makes a point of putting in as many game day-like situations as he can into those August practices.
He also pointed to a visit from Pro Football Hall of Famers Ronnie Lott and Charles Haley, who he said preached preparation. He noted Haley, a five-time Super Bowl champion, was sometimes limited early in his career due to not being on top of assignments and a lack of dependability that cost him the trust of coaches.
In the end was what it came down to — trust. If the staff decides a player has earned that trust, he’ll be in a spot to play. If not, he’s not going to be thrown out there, no matter the stars or the promise fans see in him.
“If we make the decision no, then maybe we don’t have that confidence at that time,” Muschamp said. “At times, you’ve got to build the confidence of that player, but I can only do that through practice. I don’t believe in gamers. That’s not who i am. So we’ve got to build that confidence in practice.”