As Dakereon Joyner was set to take command of the South Carolina football team’s offense last Saturday against Georgia, he received a quick message from a sage member of the team.
Center Donell Stanley has been in Columbia going on six years, and he’s not the worst guy to give a little perspective.
“I just told him we had all the confidence in him,” Stanley said. “We just got to go out there and ... we know his potential, so he just went out there and executed like he should have.”
Joyner ended up doing enough. He didn’t have any big plays, but he produced enough with his legs, hit a key pass here or there and most importantly didn’t have any disastrous plays (no turnovers, sacks, only one small tackle for loss). USC ended up pulling out the 20-17 win.
And that was after being limited with a hamstring issue for the previous few weeks.
He now enters a game where he has to be ready. Starter Ryan Hilinski had a sprained knee coming out of a hit against Georgia that could have been far worse. But he was still limping before that hit, and there’s always a risk in that situation.
Hilinski will play and start Saturday against another Top-10 foe in the Florida Gators, head coach Will Muschamp said Thursday on his call-in radio show
“He’s fine. He’ll start the game, and he’ll play well,” Muschamp said.
The coach said Hilinski was limited in Tuesday practice but took every snap on Wednesday and Thursday.
Muschamp said Joyner wasn’t working at receiver for now, focusing on quarterback as he’s living life one snap away. His performance against Georgia came as little surprise to Muschamp.
“He’s got natural leadership ability,” Muschamp said. “He positively affects people around him. That’s who he is, as a person and I think that you can develop that to a certain degree but some people have what I call the it factor and he has the it factor.”
Joyner also brings a high degree of loyalty, according to Muschamp. That was delivered in terms of actions with the choice he made before the season.
Jake Bentley was the senior starter throughout the offseason. Hilinski took the No. 2 job, jumping an older player in Joyner.
In the modern era, a four-star quarterback such as Joyner usually starts looking around, assuming he still wants to play quarterback. Joyner said he did, but he was also ready to do whatever the team did and he wasn’t leaving.
Then Jake Bentley got hurt. Joyner was the No. 2, getting gobs of practice snaps and he was working as if he’d have to play. Then he did.
“You never know when your number is going to be called,” Muschamp said. “That’s the bottom line, and it says something about, obviously, (his mom and his stepdad) great people and raised right. He has all the leadership ability you want, and to be able to have the loyalty to the University of South Carolina to stick it out and see how things are going to go and, not every time adversity strikes you know, take your ball and go home. And unfortunately in our society that’s a little bit about what’s happening.”
Muschamp pointed out a mirrored experience in Florida’s Kyle Trask. He didn’t start a game in high school. He didn’t play a game his first two years on campus and saw action in four games in 2018 before a foot injury ended his season.
He could’ve left in the offseason as a grad transfer, but instead stuck it out and is now the No. 3 rated passer in the SEC behind a pair of Heisman contenders.
If all goes well, Joyner will only play when the staff wants him to, maybe as a change-of-pace passer. In that situation, Hilinski will stay upright and avoid the hits.
But Florida sends blitzes at a volume higher than most any team in the country. It might mean Joyner gets called in again.
And his teammates are confident.
“He’ll be ready,” tailback Tavien Feaster said. “He comes out there, gives us all every day at practice. He prepares like he’s gonna start every week. That’s all you can ask out of him and when his number is called, he’s going to make plays.”
Who: South Carolina vs. Florida
When: noon Saturday, Oct. 19
Where: Williams-Brice Stadium
Line: Florida by 5