Josh Kendall

Shameik Blackshear starts with a clean slate at USC

Shameik Blackshear believes he’s going to play this season.

His coaches say there is a long way to go between now and then.

At one point, Blackshear looked like the kind of player who would be a preseason camp sensation. One knee injury and one stormy summer later, he’s quietly trying to find a place in a crowded defensive line rotation.

“I have a good feeling I’ll play this year,” the 6-foot-4, 250-pound defensive end from Bluffton said. “I had a little issue learning the plays the first few days, but now I know the plays. It shouldn’t be hard for me to get a spot to play. They haven’t told me I’m going to play, but the amount of reps that I get I just have a feeling they are going to need me to play.”

Blackshear was one of the state’s most heavily recruited players the past three seasons. He was unanimously considered a four-star prospect and had scholarship offers from Georgia, LSU and Clemson, among others, but now he finds himself in the same place most freshman are during their first fall camp – at the bottom of the pecking order.

“He’s the third end right now, but that means nothing,” defensive line coach Deke Adams said. “That’s just for rotational purposes. These guys know it’s open.”

Blackshear still is adjusting to the Gamecocks’ defensive system and the work required at the collegiate level, co-defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said.

“He’s getting better, but he’s still a ways away,” Ward said. “It’s going to take some time.”

The torn ACL Blackshear suffered in the second game of his senior season at Bluffton High is complicating his adjustment.

“You look at him sometimes in his stance, and you can tell he’s not 100 percent with his knee,” Ward said.

Blackshear doesn’t dispute that.

“My ball get-off is slower,” he said. “I see it on the field, (the explosion) is not how it used to be, but that’s my job to get it how it was.”

Blackshear believes he’ll be fully healthy in time for the season opener against North Carolina on Sept. 3, he said.

“There is a long way to go before we decide (which freshman defensive linemen will play this year), but you can tell he’s still kind of working his way back into it,” Adams said. “You can tell he’s been out a year with his injury, but I think he’s going to be fine.”

Blackshear’s college career almost was derailed before it started by an offseason arrest and petit larceny charge, but those charges were later dropped.

“I am just trying to leave everything in the past,” Blackshear said. “I can only live for what’s coming now. I come here with a clean slate, new crowd of people, new environment, new city. I want to have a fresh start here.”