In 2017, A.J. Turner was named South Carolina’s most explosive player on offense by his coaches. He is finishing 2018 on defense. In 2019, he hopes to be playing both ways.
Turner, the junior running back from Clifton, Va., was moved to defensive back near the end of the season after the Gamecocks (7-5) suffered a run of injuries at the position. He played as a reserve nickel back against Akron in the final game of the regular season, and he’s expecting snaps in the defensive backfield against Virginia (7-5) in the Belk Bowl on Saturday.
He wants to play on offense and defense during his senior season, he said Thursday after South Carolina wrapped up its final full practice of the season.
“I feel like I’m more natural at running back because I’ve been playing it all my life, but I do feel like I have the ability to do both,” Turner said. “Been playing football a long time. Even though this is a different level, it’s still football so you have to treat it the same.”
Turner led South Carolina in rushing in 2017 with 531 yards. He has started 11 games at the position and also plays on all of the Gamecocks special teams units. In his career, he has 260 carries for 1,322 yards plus 47 catches for 335 yards and 28 kick returns for 592 yards.
“That’s the GOAT right there,” safety Steven Montac said Thursday. “There ain’t any position he can’t play. He’ll play quarterback if we need him.”
Montac and cornerback Rashad Fenton have been helping Turner learn the ins and outs of the defensive back position, Turner said. Early in Thursday’s practice, head coach Will Muschamp, who also coaches the team’s safeties, was giving Turner tips on defensive back footwork.
“He said, ‘Instead of cutting like a running back, make sure you turn your feet out,’ ” Turner said. “He’s just trying to make sure I get every little drill down.”
Very few players contribute in the SEC on both of the offense and defense, but Muschamp has given at least his initial blessing to the idea, Turner said.
“He said he’ll let me do that but we will see how it plays out,” Turner said. “Wherever they need me to play. Ideally I will do both.”
Note: All outdoor Belk Bowl fan activities planned for Friday in Charlotte, including the afternoon pep rally, have been canceled because of the forecast for inclement weather.