Pink eye and a transfer.
Neither is a usual highlight for a South Carolina football practice, but both were notable coming out of Thursday’s open session. Early on, it became clear junior quarterback Connor Mitch, who opened 2015 as a starter, wasn’t on the field.
Will Muschamp explained Mitch was out because he had pink eye, but wide receiver Jalen Christian will leave the team for personal reasons.
“He is very infectious,” Muschamp said of Mitch. “So we did not allow him to come out (Thursday). He’ll be back hopefully in meetings (Friday). It’s very contagious so you can’t be around anybody or everybody’s going to get and you’ve got a problem.”
Muschamp said the quarterback’s absence doesn’t create any issues with numbers. After returning starter Perry Orth broke his collarbone and Lorenzo Nunez hyperextended his knee, the team has true freshman Brandon McIlwain, redshirt sophomore Michael Scarnecchia and walk-on Danny Gordon healthy.
Nunez is still on track to return next week, Muschamp said, and safety D.J. Smith’s surgery for a torn thumb ligament went well.
Christian becomes the seventh player to transfer since Muschamp arrived. The coach said they had a long talk about a situation at home and that he respected Christian’s decision.
“He’s a great young man. We didn’t want him to leave,” Muschamp said. “Unfortunately things happen sometimes. I really appreciate how he’s handling the situation. He’s handling it like a man would. I’m proud of him. We’re going to do everything we can do to help him transfer and get to a place closer to home. That’s where he needs to be at this time.”
The former four-star prospect redshirted last season.
Walk-on tight end Hayden Hurst, who figures to be a starter or at the least a major contributor in 2016, hopes to remove the “walk-on” designation sooner rather than later. Hurst played two years in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ minor league system, and as part of that deal, the Pirates are paying for a portion of his tuition.
Unfortunately for Hurst, it’s not a large portion. The Pirates pay the equivalent of his in-state tuition ($11,500 annually), Hurst said. As a Florida native, he pays out-of-state tuition ($30,000 annually).
“That’s why I’m working my tail off to try to earn (a scholarship),” Hurst said. “I don’t think my hard work is going unnoticed, I’ll say that, so hopefully soon.”
Hurst joined the team last year and had eight catches as a reserve wide receiver.
▪ The team did red zone work and the staff made a point to get off the field. During practice, players often got used to coaches closely guiding them, a luxury they won’t have in live action.
▪ Freshman quarterback Brandon McIlwain seemed to struggle with consistent accuracy and occasionally appeared overwhelmed when he pulled the ball down and ran in 7-on-7 drills. Some of that is to be expected with young players, and he threw a couple snappy in the late going.
▪ Running back-turned-wide receiver Jamari Smith had a couple of nice catches and earned praise from Muschamp.
▪ D.J. Park was with the first-team offense at tackle and redshirt freshman Donell Stanley slid in at guard. The team has done some shuffling with starting center Alan Knott out, and Muschamp said he was pleased to have four players, including Stanley, who could snap if needed.
▪ The offense appeared to deploy more two-tight end sets and jet sweep looks than had been shown earlier.
▪ Right before a team period, defensive line coach Lance Thompson shouted out the tackle pairing as the groups were rushing on. That could point to a more fluid situation at that spot. Earlier on, Thompson got on several linebackers for literally cutting a corner in a pass rush drill.
Josh Kendall and Dwayne McLemore contributed to this report.