Josh Kendall

Thomas’ freshman 25 boon for Gamecocks defensive line

Position preview: Gamecocks counting on young D-linemen to step up

South Carolina defensive line coach Lance Thompson brings back a mix of experience and inexperience for the 2017 season.
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South Carolina defensive line coach Lance Thompson brings back a mix of experience and inexperience for the 2017 season.

Lance Thompson needed Keir Thomas to play the interior defensive line last year, which meant Thompson needed Thomas to eat.

“I got to 250 pounds and Coach Lance came to me, like, ‘A couple more cheeseburgers and you’ll be with me,’ ” said Thomas, a three-star prospect from Miami who enrolled at South Carolina last January in time to participate in spring practice.

When Thomas enrolled, he weighed 235 pounds, but the Gamecocks were desperate for depth on the defensive line so they asked him to start packing on pounds. He obliged with what he acknowledges was a mix of good and bad weight.

At 255 pounds, Thomas was heavy enough to be a defensive end, but Thompson needed defensive tackles.

“Then I got to about 265 in camp and that’s when I pretty much moved to defensive tackle,” Thomas said.

Thomas played in all 13 games as a true freshman, tallying 24 tackles and two sacks. He started against Texas A&M and Georgia. This spring, Thomas has settled in at 260 pounds, and he will play both defensive tackle and defensive end if all goes according to plan.

“I’m going to go through the spring and see how I hold this weight,” he said.

Thomas’ weight wasn’t the only thing that grew in his freshman season. When he enrolled at South Carolina, he estimates he could bench press 315 pounds. That number is now 405.

“I’m just doing what I can to help the team so we can have a better season,” the 6-foot-2 Thomas said.

Thompson, South Carolina’s defensive line coach, would have preferred to redshirt Thomas last season.

“He wasn’t really ready to play but he had to play,” Thompson said. “He went through the school of hard knocks and he’s going to be better because of it.”

This year, the Gamecocks want even more versatility from Thomas, who is mostly working behind starting tackles Ulric Jones and Taylor Stallworth this spring.

“What we want this year is because of the teams that are spread offenses, where things are more space play stuff and not as much direct run, he’s got to be a guy who can play the edge and who can play inside for us,” Thompson said. “The great thing about Keir is he’s a very intelligent young man and he understands football so I don’t think that part of it will slow him down.”

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