If South Carolina’s offensive line cohesion works as well on the field as it does off, the Gamecocks will be just fine up front in 2016.
South Carolina is replacing three starting offensive linemen this spring, but the group it has already feels like they’ve been playing together forever. Which is probably because they’re seldom apart.
“We all pretty much live together, and if we don’t live together we’re getting together on weekends just hanging out, doing things outside of football,” said sophomore Zack Bailey, who is expected to start at left guard this season.
Bailey, starting right tackle Blake Camper, reserve left tackle Christian Pellage and backup lineman Trey Derouen (who is out this spring because of injury) share a living space at 650 Lincoln. Starting left tackle Mason Zandi, starting center Alan Knott and starting right guard Cory Helms will live together off campus this fall.
“We are really close,” Helms said. “We hang out every weekend, eat dinner together all the time. We are always together at night. I think the camaraderie is really good, and I think that’s important, too.”
The gatherings usually revolve around food, Bailey said.
“I love to cook, so sometimes we’ll go down and grill,” he said. “It could be steaks, it could be chicken, it doesn’t really matter.”
Bailey, Helms and Camper are filling the holes left by Brandon Shell, Will Sport and Mike Matulis. Knott, a junior, is the veteran of the group with 17 career starts. Zandi, a senior, has 11 career starts.
“For me, personally, as a fifth-year there are a lot of things that I like to point out to the young guys,” Zandi said. “I don’t know if it’s specifically because of (playing left tackle) or because I am a fifth-year.”
First-year offensive coordinator Kurt Roper has been impressed with what he’s seen of the group through two spring practices.
“You know, they’re good,” Roper said. “They’re solid. They know what they’re doing. They have been around a while. They are well coached, obviously. They are tough, tough guys, so I think we’ve got a really good start up front. I’m a big believer that if you’re going to have a good offensive line you have to have a lot of repetition in what you’re asking them to do, so we are trying to build it that way.”
The players are doing their part off the field.
“We are all really good friends outside of here,” Zandi said. “We have each other’s back. The Fourth Quarter program really made us be a team and have to lean on one another when things got tough.”