Josh Kendall

Gamecocks runners eying Bulls and 2017 position battle

A.J. Turner will approach Thursday’s Birmingham Bowl as the final game of the season, but he knows it’s the kickoff of what will be an interesting tailback competition at South Carolina in 2017.

“All I can do is do what I do, which is play, do what I’m told, do what I’m coached to do,” said Turner, a redshirt freshman who’s the Gamecocks second-leading rusher this season. “I’ll find a role, my coaches will tell me what that is and I will do it to the best of my ability. As of right now, for next year I don’t necessarily know what my role is.”

Turner’s role this season was something of a surprise. In fall camp, he supplanted junior David Williams as South Carolina’s starting tailback and started four of the first five games. Williams briefly won the starting job back (against UMass on Oct. 22) but gave way to true freshman Rico Dowdle, who has started the past five games and leads the Gamecocks with 714 yards on 121 carries.

Dowdle’s expected to start when the Gamecocks (6-6) take on South Florida (10-2) at Legion Field in the Birmingham Bowl on Thursday. All three are expected to return next season to fight it out.

“All I have to do is keep working hard. I hope they work hard, too, because it’s going to make me work harder and we are all going to get better,” Turner said. “I am excited about it. We have three great backs. We can definitely utilize all of them so I am excited to see what they want to do with us next year.”

There will also be some additions to the rotation, the most interesting being Ty’son Williams, a former four-star prospect from Sumter who transferred from North Carolina and sat out this season because of NCAA transfer rules.

“He looks real good. He’s a big guy, and he’s quick,” Turner said. “He’s fast as well, but I feel like he’s more quick. He has really good acceleration. It’s a different weapon in our arsenal on offense. Me, Rico and him, that’s really deep at the position.”

Williams, 6-foot, 220 pounds, has been South Carolina’s scout team running back this season. He’s not in Birmingham because transfers who aren’t eligible don’t make bowl trips, a USC spokesperson said.

“He really makes our defense work,” Turner said. “The defensive players talk about it all the time. The coaches talk about it in film (study). He gets scout player of the week just about every week, so I think he’s doing very well.”

Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp lauded Williams twice in the last week.

“He’s a very explosive back, shows it every day during scout team,” said South Carolina defensive tackle Taylor Stallworth. “Just very explosive. I can’t wait until next year, see him get the ball in his hands, see what he does with it.”

Williams’ speed will provide a good counterpoint to Dowdle’s power, Stallworth said.

“Ty’son, strictly speed,” Stallworth said. “He’s got some power in him, but once he gets on the edges, it’s over with.”

The Gamecocks also will add Goose Creek native Caleb Kinlaw, a former Wisconsin running back who spent last season at Pearl River Community College.

“For those wondering if I can still run because I got moved to corner at UW .. just sit and watch, see for yourself,” Kinlaw tweeted Monday.

The running backs who play this week will go against a South Florida defense that ranks 92nd in the nation against the run, so Dowdle, Turner and Williams have a chance to make a good first impression for the 2017 competition.

“I feel like as of this game I am getting more than I have the past few games,” Turner said. “That is good for me, and hopefully I can do something with the opportunities that I am given.”

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