Josh Kendall

USC sophomore defensive end a force ‘to be reckoned with’

Bigger, older DJ Wonnum set to step up for USC pass rush

South Carolina sophomore DJ Wonnum is confident he can break through for the pass rush at the Buck position in 2017.
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South Carolina sophomore DJ Wonnum is confident he can break through for the pass rush at the Buck position in 2017.

South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp says he can’t come up with enough positive things to say about sophomore defensive end D.J. Wonnum. Gamecocks senior defensive end Dante Sawyer has one thing to say that probably sums it all up anyway.

“That boy is some fire,” Sawyer said.

Wonnum, a 6-foot-4, 251-pound Stone Mountain, Ga., native, leads South Carolina in sacks with four and tackles-for-loss with 8.5. He is fourth on the team with 34 tackles and has been named the SEC’s defensive lineman of the week the past two weeks.

“He’s something to be reckoned with,” Sawyer said. “If he keeps coming along, it gives our defense much more edge.”

Wonnum is tied for second in the SEC in tackles-for-loss and tied for 11th in sacks. In the last two weeks, he has 10 tackles, three tackles-for-loss, two sacks, two pass breakups and one quarterback hurry in wins against Arkansas and Tennessee.

“He’s gotten more statistical stuff the last two weeks, but he’s been playing really good football for us all year,” Muschamp said. “We’re going to get production out of No. 8. I don’t even blink. He’s a really good football player, one of the more intelligent players I have ever been around as far as understanding the game. There are not enough positive things I can say about him.”

Wonnum has downplayed his recent production boost.

“Basically, I am just putting in the work during the week,” he said. “Put in the work during the week, get the outcome Saturday. In practices, we get after it. Our objective is to be better than we were last week.”

Wonnum is a quick study on the practice field, Muschamp said.

“I’ve been so proud of how he's played, as a true freshman last year, and how he has continued to evolve,” Muschamp said. “We've really challenged him about, No. 1 getting stronger in the weight room and really, he's extremely bright, he's extremely intelligent, he really understands the game. He's a guy you can tell something to one time and he gets it, it's done. You don't have to tell him again. He's not a rep guy. The game comes very easy to him. He's going to play for a long time.”

Wonnum played in 13 games as a true freshman, notching 32 tackles, 3.5 tackles-for-loss and 1.5 sacks. South Carolina linebacker Skai Moore watched that season from the sideline as he rehabbed a neck injury. Moore has been even more impressed with Wonnum while playing alongside him this year.

“Since I got back on the field and been playing with D.J. he’s been very disruptive,” Moore said. “He’s a good player, very athletic, strong, smart. It’s no surprise he’s doing what he’s doing.”

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