Josh Kendall

Skai Moore coming back right where he left off

The last time Skai Moore opened a football season on the field was also the last time South Carolina opened the season at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.

It worked out well for the linebacker and the Gamecocks. Moore intercepted two passes in the end zone, and South Carolina beat North Carolina 17-13 on Sept. 3, 2015. That season was the last time the Cooper City, Fla., native played because he sat out 2016 because of a herniated disc in his neck that required surgery.

Moore is back on the field this year, and the Gamecocks are back in the home of the Carolina Panthers for the first game of the season. This time, South Carolina will face N.C. State at 3 p.m. on Sept. 2.

“We obviously know we are playing there, but I haven’t really thought about the last time,” Moore said, “but the way we have been playing and the way we’ve been preparing, it should lead to good results, the same as last time.”

The game has been a long time coming for Moore.

“I’m just ready to get it going,” he said. “It was difficult watching your friends out there doing what they love. I love the game so it was difficult, but I tried my best to motivate them.”

The defense that Moore returns to looks little like the defense he left, he said. In 2015, the Gamecocks finished last in the SEC in yards allowed (429.8 per game) and points allowed (27.5 per game) under defensive coordinator Jon Hoke in what would be Steve Spurrier’s final season.

“It’s almost like night and day to be honest with you,” Moore said. “You see the speed of the defense has increased a lot. Guys know what they are doing. We are all just playing on the same page. It’s going to be fun to watch.”

That increased defensive speed has a lot to do with Moore’s return, coach Will Muschamp said.

“Our team speed improved a lot when No. 10 walked back out on the field,” said Muschamp.

South Carolina’s coaching staff will have its first chance to coach Moore on the field next week. Until now they have either known him as a rehabilitating player or as an opponent.

“I don’t know too much about the old Skai. All I remember was that No. 10 when I was at the other place,” said South Carolina outside linebackers coach Mike Peterson, who was an assistant at Florida in 2015. “I remember just the No. 10, but what I see now I am in love with.”

Moore and the Gamecocks will face a Wolfpack offense that finished ninth in the ACC in scoring (27 points per game) and total offense (416.4 yards per game) last season. Moore enters the season with a chance to become the first South Carolina player, and just the 14th player in NCAA Division I history, to lead his team in tackles for four seasons. He’s also three interceptions short of tying the Gamecocks career record of 14 held by Bo Davies.

That interception record is “definitely on my mind,” Moore said.

“People are always coming to me talking about it, but I’m just going to go out there and play my game, do what I do and the plays will come to me,” he said.

Moore wants to prove this year to NFL evaluators that he is the same player, if not better than the one who last played in 2015.

“There’s been no fall-off,” he said. “This scheme I feel like is going to put me in position to make a lot of plays. I’m in space a lot so I just feel like this scheme is going to expose my abilities.”

It worked out the last time in Charlotte.