USC Gamecocks Football

‘Without a doubt,’ DJ Wonnum has NFL future, but his focus isn’t there yet, coach says

A former NFL coach has already vouched for South Carolina senior pass rusher D.J. Wonnum’s pro potential.

Now, add a former NFL veteran to the list of people who believe Wonnum has a future playing on Sundays.

“I told y’all that a long time ago,” Gamecocks coach Mike Peterson said with a smile Wednesday when informed that USC defensive line coach John Scott Jr. said Wonnum had a better body than some pro players he coached on the New York Jets.

There’s still at least a full season left before Wonnum will turn to the NFL draft, and he could potentially stay another year if granted a medical redshirt. But with the possibility of bigger and better things ahead, it’s understandable that the topic sometimes comes up in personal conversations between Wonnum and Peterson, who spent 14 years in the NFL and was voted second-team All-Pro in 2005.

“Me and him, we talk about it when we get one on one and sit to the side,” Peterson said. “But right now, we got some ball games to play, we got some quarterbacks to get after. So if you ask him, that’s what he will be focused on. But the question, can he play an NFL? Without a doubt.”

Maintaining focus on one last season of college football isn’t always easy though, Peterson noted.

“It’s actually hard, you know, because it’s right there. You know, you can use him and some of the other seniors that’s there — it’s just our job to remind them you know, the NFL and what’s next is gonna take care of itself,” Peterson said. “All you can control right now is what you do and feel.”

For his part, Wonnum has said he’s approaching this season as though it’s his last. After what was supposed to be a breakout junior year was derailed by injuries, the obvious hope for this year is that he regains or surpasses the sophomore season form that made him the Gamecocks’ leader in sacks, with six, as well as 57 tackles. He’ll need that production to impress NFL scouts. But his goals for the year are more general.

“Stopping the run and making the quarterback uncomfortable are the biggest things for us trenches-wise this year,” Wonnum said.

And as the elder statesman and most productive player at the BUCK position, Wonnum can also provide the Gamecocks vital leadership — he was elected a team captain as a sophomore, and his work ethic remains the model Peterson wants all of his players to follow.

“You know, he’s one of those guys, you love coaching good players. And I enjoy coming to work coaching a guy like that. He does everything right And the good thing about it, the younger guys get a chance to see, you know, how you prepare before practice, how you get out there early, how you prepare before game, so he’s a valuable tool in my room, not only on the field, but just the lessons of how to approach the game,” Peterson said.

Greg Hadley is the beat writer for South Carolina women’s basketball and baseball for GoGamecocks and The State. He also covers football and recruiting.