Josh Kendall

Why Gamecocks’ kickoff return team is among nation’s best

There may be no one more excited about South Carolina’s kickoff return success this season than A.J. Turner.

There are several reasons for that. Deebo Samuel’s two kickoff returns for touchdowns have helped the Gamecocks to a 2-0 start, which is great for Turner, a sophomore running back on the team. Turner is also part of the kickoff return team as Samuel’s fellow deep man and so far has been a key blocker in the scheme, which brings a sense of personal accomplishment. And then there’s the fact that Turner figures he’s going to get even more chances to return kicks the rest of the season because he can’t imagine anybody kicking one to Samuel again.

Nobody can really. Samuel, South Carolina’s junior wide receiver, has two 97-yard scoring returns in the first two weeks. That tied the Gamecocks’ previous career record for kickoff return touchdowns, and Samuel now owns the career record with three, all of which have come in the last five games.

“I do (think I’ll get more chances this year now), and I’m excited for it,” Turner said. “Deebo does have a special ability. He can return kicks real well. We just have to block. When I get a kick to me I just have to make the most of it, and hopefully they will still block.”

Head coach Will Muschamp also credited blocking, and special teams coordinator Coleman Hutzler, for Samuel’s two scores.

“I look back at Kiel Pollard and Javon Charleston, Chavis Dawkins, Evan Hinson, we've had some guys that have made some key blocks to spring (Samuel) and create a one-on-one, which he's going to win a lot of those in space,” Muschamp said. “I think that we've done a nice job. Antoine Wilder. We've had some guys that have done a really nice job blocking up front in execution of the return as much as anything.”

Maybe the most amazing thing about Samuel’s start is that his two touchdowns are his only two returns this season so South Carolina’s opponents already are trying to avoid him. Turner has four returns for 67 yards. In all, the Gamecocks lead the SEC and are fifth in the nation in kickoff returns, averaging 43.5 yards per return.

Hutzler, like the rest of South Carolina’s assistant coaches, is not made available to speak to the media during the season. Turner estimated that the Gamecocks have five different return “plays,” and Hutzler is responsible for determining which of those to install each week after studying tape of South Carolina’s upcoming opponents.

“Everybody has to stay on their man and sustain a block,” Turner said. “Kickoff people they like to twist and make it confusing for you. You just have to track your man and stay on them.”

The players who are not on South Carolina’s kickoff return team now scoot up close to the sideline and watch whenever the Gamecocks are receiving a kick, just in case, senior safety and punt returner Chris Lammons said.

“Everybody wants to see because we know what we have back there returning the ball,” Lammons said.

Lammons, who has three punt returns for 26 yards this season, is starting to get a little jealous of Samuel’s success, he said. At the same time, he hopes opponent’s give Samuel a chance for more.

“If they want to take that chance,” he said, “then go ahead.”

Game info

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Williams-Brice Stadium

TV: SEC Network

Radio: 107.5 FM

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