Sometimes things people say or things other people say about them hound them, chasing them through the years, usually in a mocking tone.
For Shameik Blackshear, it’s these words: “I really feel like he’s going to be the next big thing in South Carolina.” That was high school football analyst Jim Baxter, and that was in 2013. Then, the sky was the limit for Blackshear, a defensive end at Bluffton High School. He was rated a five-star prospect and was even mentioned in the same breath as Jadeveon Clowney. Now, that seems like a long time ago.
Since then, Blackshear has suffered a knee injury that cut short his senior season of high school and hampered his first year at South Carolina in 2015, and he has been involved in a shooting that cost him the 2016 spring practice and a whole offseason of conditioning and strength training, making his 2016 fall basically a wash, too.
Entering 2017, Blackshear still is an unknown commodity for the Gamecocks. He plays a position of great need and once showed a skill that South Carolina coach Will Muschamp is clamoring for, the ability to rush the quarterback, but it’s unclear how much Blackshear will help USC this year.
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“No idea,” defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson said when asked that question. “He wants to get on the field. It’s important to him to play. He’s doing a good job. If he continues to do that, he’ll get his opportunities.”
Blackshear missed several days of practice because of what defensive line coach Lance Thompson said was a concussion but was back at practice Friday and Saturday, Muschamp said.
“His attitude has been unbelievable,” Robinson said. “He’s been doing a really good job of practicing hard, going about his business the right way, understanding what we are doing. He has limited mistakes. He’s doing a really good job right now, eager to see when we get in pads how he continues to progress.”
Blackshear’s attitude had been part of what was holding him back, some teammates have said, but it’s pointed in the right direction now, senior linebacker Skai Moore said. Blackshear went home with Moore to Cooper City, Fla., for the summer and spring break, Moore said.
“We were training together and put in a lot of good work,” Moore said. “I am seeing his game just change, his mentality change from when he got here. He has definitely made a lot of strides.”
Blackshear has not been made available to speak to the media during the preseason, but he has benefited from being able to spend the entire offseason in the team’s conditioning program. Blackshear, 6-foot-4, is currently more than 260 pounds, Muschamp said. He was around 240 pounds when he enrolled at South Carolina. The sophomore has four career tackles.
“His strength levels weren’t what they needed to be so I’m excited to see what he can do,” Muschamp said. “He’s a lot stronger because he’s had a year of lifting. His body has changed. Anytime you gain more strength and you gain better change of direction, then you gain confidence. That’s certainly going to help him. You have to be a consistent playmaker for us at the end of the day. We evaluate practice and how you are going to practice is normally how you are going to play in the game.”