Josh Kendall

Jake Bentley called him one of the ‘biggest surprises’ of camp. Now he’s a USC starter

All the praise for freshman cornerback Jaycee Horn culminated Tuesday when the four-star prospect was placed on the top of South Carolina’s depth chart at nickel back.

“It’s all about getting your best four and five out there. We recognized very early in camp Jaycee was going to be one of those guys,” football coach Will Muschamp said Tuesday.

The 6-foot-1, 195-pound Horn will be an official starter only if the Gamecocks open the game in their nickel defense with a fifth defensive back in the game. Senior Keisean Nixon and Rashad Fenton will start at cornerback.

“As we continued to rep through camp, seeing Keisean rep outside and Jaycee rep inside, felt comfortable playing him inside,” Muschamp said.

Muschamp ran his thoughts on Horn by starting wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Bryan Edwards before announcing the depth chart Tuesday.

“I go, ‘Who do you like?’ ‘Jaycee is good coach.’ I kind of trust players on that,” Muschamp said.

Horn is the son of former NFL wide receiver Joe Horn.

“He’s got really good man coverage skills,” Muschamp said. “He finishes on the top of routes. He’s got good zone instincts, and repeatedly through camp, he’s making plays on the ball. He has a ball hawk mentality. He gets his hands on the ball a lot. When you’re able to do that, I tell guys all the time we’re going to figure a way to get you on the field if you can get your hands on the ball.”

South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley would be willing to vouch for Horn as well.

“He’s one of the biggest surprises of camp,” Bentley said. “He’s the kind of kid you look at like, ‘Wow, that’s a big-time play.’ He made those all camp. He made play after play.”

Horn has even challenged Bentley to throw the ball to Edwards in one-on-one situations during practice.

“Real confident. He came to me and said, ‘Man, if it’s one-on-one with Bryan, just throw it up,’ He has confidence that he’s going to make a play. He wants the ball thrown at him every play,” Bentley said. “He’s a great player, and he’s really coachable from what I’ve seen. He seems to be a guy who’s always around the football.”

Horn is the only true freshman listed as a starter on South Carolina’s depth chart, but he’s not the only first-year player who will be starting in the secondary. Senior J.T. Ibe, who came to the Gamecocks as a graduate transfer from Rice in the offseason, will start at safety over Texas A&M graduate transfer Nick Harvey.

“J.T., after being cleared (following an offseason hip injury), I think did a fantastic job of grasping our defense and what we do,” Muschamp said. “I like the physicality and urgency he plays with.”

Sophomore Jamyest Williams, who started six games at nickel back as a true freshman last year, was listed as the team’s top backup at safety and nickel Tuesday.

“Jam and Nick will both play as well,” Muschamp said, “but, certainly, J.T. has earned the right to start.”