USC Gamecocks Football

What drives Jaycee Horn, South Carolina’s rising star on defense

Gamecocks assistant Kyle Krantz breaks down Jamyest Williams, key position

South Carolina Gamecocks defensive assistant Kyle Krantz talked about his nickels in Jaycee Horn, Jammie Robinson, Shilo Sanders and the leadership role Jamyest Williams has to take.
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South Carolina Gamecocks defensive assistant Kyle Krantz talked about his nickels in Jaycee Horn, Jammie Robinson, Shilo Sanders and the leadership role Jamyest Williams has to take.

It’s not often a football team can’t locate its two most promising freshman cornerbacks.

South Carolina coach Will Muschamp was doing curfew check during August camp last year. It was after 10 p.m., and two players were missing: freshmen Jaycee Horn and Israel Mukuamu.

“Just one night, they thought we were at the (650 Lincoln dorm) and we’re over watching film the whole time,” Horn said.

More than a few players had been camping at the stadium, sleeping where they could to make things more efficient with meetings that finished up at 9 p.m. and days that began at 6:30 a.m. One can see where a couple of precocious players might get lost trying to dig into everything.

“We just stayed up here and watched film,” Mukuamu said. “So we basically sleep over at stadium. It just helps us be more locked in and stay focused.”

Not long after that moment, Horn found himself starting as a true freshman for USC. It didn’t take more than a few games for him to make a case as South Carolina’s best defensive back, manning the nickel spot, bouncing out to corner and delivering solid play at a position where mistakes aren’t made without notice.

This year he’s coming off that strong debut season rather than being an unknown. Him being a leader of sorts is a given, and he certainly feels something changed.

“I feel like a different player,” Horn said. “Not really a different personality but just taking on a new role. I’m not really a young guy no more. Jamyest (Williams) and JT (Ibe) are like the older guys in our room, but we all played a good number of snaps, so it’s a different role. I’ve got to lead the way now, show you here guys how to do it.”

That last part is something his coach already sees.

Muschamp when in-depth on what exactly allowed Horn to play as early as he did. It’s a three-part test, with the final one likely being the hardest to find.

“Playing as a freshman, to me, number one, you got to have ability,” Muschamp said. “You got to be good enough, you got to have an opportunity. But then the third factor is, you got to be mature to line up in front of 80,000 people at 17 years old, and be asked to do some very difficult things against really good players in our league, on our schedule.”

He was all of them, especially the third. His first game involved having to corral an option offense. His second had him going against a powerful Georgia attack. Then came underrated Vanderbilt and the downhill power of Kentucky.

And Horn just kept at it.

Once the advanced freshman, now he’s a player others are told to follow. The guys who miss curfew for film, it’s a mentality Muschamp believes is contagious.

“That’s the way really good players do things,” Muschamp said. “And I think a lot of the young players especially see a guy have the success that he’s had. And they said, ‘Man, that’s the way you’re supposed to do things, that’s what you’re supposed to carry yourself.’ “ So I think maturity is a big part of that.”

It helped Horn to 45 tackles, eight pass break-ups and a pair of sacks, earning SEC All-Freshman honors from the league’s coaches. He was asked to stick his nose into things playing close to the box and to bounce outside to handle some of the opposition’s best receivers.

Beyond playing two positions, he was also slated to start a third — safety — before an ankle injury cost him a few games. Horn said he expects to be a corner primarily, but he’ll do whatever is needed.

Mukuamu said both Horn’s and his own understanding of the game have grown. And Horn has caught the eye of one of the veterans.

“Great personality of a competitor,” Jamyest Williams said. “Loves to compete. It’s good to have corners that are long, tall and love to compete.”

Horn was a four-star recruit who picked USC relatively late in the game. At one point, he’d been committed to Butch Jones’ Tennessee team, but things opened up when that staff was fired.

Now he’s trying to anchor a secondary set to have a trio of talented sophomores in him, Mukuamu and R.J. Roderick, but not much depth with a pair of injury-prone safeties, one who battled consistency issues and four true freshmen.

With the move to a second year, Horn’s profile has risen in another way: He can do interviews per Muschamp’s rules. One subject that’s come up often is his father Joe’s most high-profile NFL moment.

Joe Horn was a prolific receiver for the New Orleans Saints and a Pro Bowler, but perhaps his biggest contribution to the sport was pulling a cell phone out and pretending to make a call after scoring a touchdown in 2003.

In Jaycee’s mind, that was for him.

“Me and my brothers, my sister wanted to go to the game that night,” Jaycee Horn said. “My mom, when they had a Sunday night game, my mom wasn’t really too fond of us going. ... When he scored and pulled out the call phone, it was really just his way of showing us the call was for us, even though he didn’t actually call.”

South Carolina football cornerback Jaycee Horn expresses his confidence in the Gamecocks' secondary for 2019, based off the fact that so many young Gamecocks got playing time last season, plus the talent of the freshman class.

West Coast raised. Midwest educated. Southern football indoctrinated. Covers most everything Gamecocks, primarily football.
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