South Carolina football: Mon Denson on new running backs coach, early spring practice
College football is full of stories like Mon Denson’s through the first few years of his career. They usually don’t go the way his seems to be heading.
His first two years on campus, he didn’t see the field because of injury. Once he redshirted, but as a second-year freshman, he didn’t even play special teams. The team added a back from his recruiting class (Ty’Son Williams), from near Columbia, who some felt should’ve landed the spot he ended up taking.
Twice he entered a season as seemingly South Carolina’s No. 4 running back, including his junior year. Most players with all that, they depart at some time or another.
Denson is still in Columbia, and spent the spring earning some praise for the way he ran.
“I think I’ve improved a lot,” Denson said.”Just being out there, being comfortable on the field. The biggest issue is just going out there and being able to go out there knowing that you know the plays and being able to just run the ball effectively.”
He came out of spring with Will Muschamp saying he was one of South Carolina’s two best backs, give or take Rico Dowdle returning from injury. Williams is gone, and the staff spoke highly of Denson’s style.
“He’s a tough guy,” running backs coach Thomas Brown said. “He’s a very versatile player. Plays a bunch on special teams for us as well. I think he’s probably been the most consistent guy.
“Between him and A.J., the most experienced guys I have in the room, Mon is doing a good job of having a very good attitude every day.”
Last year, his biggest chance arrived. Turner, Dowdle and Williams were nicked up at various points. Denson was slowed by a hamstring early, but ended up with 86 carries (second on the team) and 432 yards (also second on the team).
He did that with a decisive and powerful style. His early work was in short yardage, but he also showed some pop, breaking off a pair of runs longer than 60 yards.
And in the spring, he showed more of that.
“He’s gotten vertical with the ball,” Muschamp said. “He gets the ball downhill. He runs hard.”
The question becomes, how does the rotation come together?
Brown said he wants two top backs. Muschamp said Turner and Denson were the two best in spring, but Dowdle was limited throughout. Turner is also spending time on defense.
USC hasn’t been shy about working in different runners, but has long longed for a bellcow in the mold of Mike Davis or even Dowdle the second half of his true freshman season.
Denson said he focused on getting in better shape this offseason. He noted his durability was among the biggest things he aimed to work on. All spring, backs looked for a level of separation, and it didn’t appear much of that happened, meaning the competition will carry into August.
Denson’s fortunes might well be tied with the performances of those around him, but he carries one thing as he looks toward his final season that might be a testament to sticking with things and seeing them through.
“I know that’s what type of runner I am,” Denson said. “You’ve got to know yourself as a back. I’m a downhill guy. In practice, I focus on, when I get to the second level, just making cuts.”