Sitting at a table in a ballroom in Indianapolis at the NFL Combine, where he was trying to make his NFL dream come, Rashad Fenton talked about the two South Carolina players who will play his position for the Gamecocks this year, two players who will be sitting where he is in three years. Maybe in two.
“Those two guys are phenomenal,” said Fenton, who started 30 games at cornerback for the Gamecocks from 2016-2018. “Both of them have great size that I wish had.”
Fenton measured 5-foot-11, 193 pounds at the combine. It was the exact same size as former Georgia cornerback Deandre Baker, who at that moment was standing at a podium about 10 feet to Fenton’s left. In April, Baker could be the first cornerback selected in the NFL Draft.
“Those two guys,” the ones that Fenton was talking about, are cut from a different cloth. South Carolina entered spring practice with 6-foot-1 Jaycee Horn and 6-foot-4 Israel Mukuamu listed as the starting cornerbacks. The two sophomores figure to have those jobs for as long as they want to play college football.
“I put all my trust in them,” South Carolina safety R.J. Roderick said. “They work at it. We work together in the weight room. I know how hard they work, and it’s beyond the field. It’s behind closed doors. It’s consistency. I don’t worry about anything when they’re on the edge.”
Horn and Mukuamu will be talked about as a tandem for that entire time, partially because they play the same position but mostly because they are so often in tandem.
“I kind of thought they were related at first, everything that they did together,” Fenton said. “They are really best buds.”
Horn grew up in Alpharetta, Georgia. Mukuamu grew up in Monck’s Corner and played his final year of high school football in Bossier City, Louisiana. They did not meet until last spring, when Horn visited a practice in which Mukuamu, an early enrollee, was participating.
Since Horn joined the team that fall, the two have been virtually inseparable.
“You will never see him without me and vice versa,” Horn said. “Unless we are in class. We don’t have the same classes. That’s about the only time we are not together.”
Horn and Mukuamu live together and spend much of their down time playing the Madden football video game, with Mukuamu usually coming out on top while playing with the Philadelphia Eagles.
“I give him a hard time with Alshon Jeffery,” Mukuamu said.
“They are with each other 24/7,” wide receiver Josh Vann said.
That’s fine with South Carolina defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson.
“The one thing about Israel that people don’t know and can’t know is his work ethic. He’s a great human,” Robinson said. “Him and Jaycee, they are best friends, and they push each other. Jaycee is an ultimately talented guy. He really is. Israel is right there working with him in everything he does. They push each other so I’m excited about that, and I am excited to have guys with that kind of length out on the edges.”
Horn – the son of longtime NFL wide receiver Joe Horn, the man who once pulled a stashed cellphone from the padding of a goalpost to celebrate a touchdown – is not going to tiptoe around the subject of what could be ahead for him and Mukuamu.
“We talk about that a lot,” he said. “That’s mostly our conversation, how great we can be, push each other on and off the field. If I hear he’s working out, I go work out. If he hears I’m working out, he comes to work out. It’s like that.
“I think we can be two of the best corners in the nation. That’s our expectations. That’s what we’re shooting for.”
No defensive back at the NFL Combine this year measured 6-4 or taller, and Mukuamu said he and Horn’s relative height is one of the things they bonded over.
“We are both tall corners. We have a lot of talents,” he said. “We both work hard, and we just both want to be great. We both want to make it to the NFL. I think that’s what really clicked. I think we can definitely be the best tandem in the country.”