The good news is South Carolina has another true freshman defensive lineman available now.
The bad news is the Gamecocks may need one.
Clemson transfer Josh Belk was ruled immediately eligible by the NCAA on Thursday as the organization decided that what South Carolina football coach Will Muschamp called a “situation with his family” was good enough reason not to make him sit out the normally required one year when undergraduate players transfer.
“Obviously, we are very happy to get the news from the NCAA that Josh is eligible to play this season,” Muschamp said in a statement. “Our compliance department did a great job of making a strong case for Josh, and the NCAA did the right thing in granting the waiver. I’m appreciative for everyone involved in making this happen.”
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Belk, from Lewisville High School in Richburg, was a four-star prospect a year ago and could join fellow true freshman defensive tackles Kingsley (J.J.) Enagbare and Rick Sandidge in playing this year for the Gamecocks. Enagbare is listed as a backup tackle on South Carolina’s depth chart this year, and Muschamp said he envisions Sandidge playing just as many snaps as Enagbare over the course of the season.
True freshman Jesus Gibbs also has been mentioned as a possible contributor this year by Muschamp, although Gibbs will miss several weeks because of a knee injury.
If Belk jumps into the rotation along with Enagbare and Sandidge, that will give South Carolina three true freshman defensive tackles playing significant snaps. That speaks well of recruiting efforts and bodes well for the future but might not be a good sign for the present.
The Gamecocks have only three veteran defensive tackles who they feel are ready to play quality minutes at the moment, starters Javon Kinlaw and Keir Thomas and top backup Kobe Smith. With M.J. Webb and Griffin Gentry unable to break into the regular rotation thus far in their careers, the true freshmen (and junior college transfer Jabari Ellis) could be next up for South Carolina. In a league where five to six tackles generally are needed for a rotation that can reasonably be expected to hold up an entire season, that’s not great news.
There’s also the question of Belk’s weight. Muschamp would not reveal the freshman’s weight last week, but the team’s media guide lists him at 359 pounds, 50 pounds heavier than he was in high school last year.
“We need to trim a little bit. We are working toward that,” Muschamp said. “It’s a process and you have to buy into that, and Josh has certainly welcomed the things we are trying to do.”
It comes a year after Javon Kinlaw dropped 40 pounds from his arrival on campus and grew into a starter for USC. Belk could find himself in a similar spot, playing sparingly early and seeing his role grow as the season goes on.
With the news coming this late, it’s not even clear if he got a rotation player’s level of practice work this week. He’s also at a position USC coaches have said is among the toughest for a young player to pick up.
Lewisville coach Will Mitchell told The State he’s confident Belk can drop enough weight to be a contributor this year.
“I am not concerned with that at all,” Mitchell said. “I think he’s probably a natural 310 kid. He’s just a big kid.”
A big kid South Carolina may have to throw into the fire right away.