As long as Lorenzo Nunez keeps blocking like he did last week, he doesn’t need to make any locker room speeches to be a leader for South Carolina’s football team.
That was the message Tuesday from his head coach and two former Gamecocks who know exactly what it’s like being the new guy and the face of an SEC football team at the same time.
“It’s a fine line, that’s for sure,” said Steve Taneyhill, who took over South Carolina’s starting quarterback spot in the sixth game of his true freshman season in 1992.
Nunez made his first start last week against UCF in the fourth game of his collegiate career. He’ll make his first SEC start and first road start on Saturday when the Gamecocks (2-2, 0-2 SEC) take on Missouri in Columbia, Mo. Nunez doesn’t need to change who he is just because he’s gone from prep prospect to SEC starter in just a little more than a month, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said.
“I don’t know that he assumes (the leadership role) too much. He’s just out there playing ball,” Spurrier said. “He doesn’t have to worry about all that. That’ll take care of itself.”
The block Nunez threw against Knights defensive back Jeremy Boykins that helped spring wide receiver Pharoh Cooper for the go-ahead, 29-yard touchdown run last week will take care of a lot of things, Spurrier said.
“You know, the block he made the other day, the players said, ‘Hey, this guy’s pretty tough,’ ” Spurrier said. “ I loved it when he was running the ball against Georgia, when he went down the sideline, instead of running out of bounds, he lowered his shoulder and popped one of their little (defensive backs) back 2 or 3 yards. Those are the kind of things that your teammates admire and respect about you. So, he doesn’t have to talk a lot or anything. Just play tough and compete and it will take care of itself.”
That’s all Taneyhill tried to do in his first season, he said. He deferred the vocal parts of the leadership role to veterans such as offensive lineman Ernest Dye, running back Brandon Bennett and running back Rob DeBoer, he said.
“I think being a quarterback is about toughness,” Taneyhill said. “You have to show those guys that you’re going to hang in there. If you’ll do that, you’ll make those big linemen want to play and battle for you. You gotta like how (Nunez) played in that first game.”
Taneyhill played in nine games as a true freshman, finishing the season with 1,272 passing yards, seven touchdowns and six interceptions and a completion percentage of 53.1. He remains second in school history in passing yards with 8,782 yards.
Todd Ellis, the school’s all-time leader in passing yards (9,953), didn’t start until his redshirt freshman season, and he tried to use the same mouth-shut, head-down approach to acceptance Taneyhill did.
“You can gain the respect of your teammates in a lot of different ways, and one of them is toughness and not being the prima donna young quarterback,” Ellis said. “That’s a problem a lot of times. If you can not be that, and can be one of the guys in the locker room and do a few things that show that you’re tough and involved, that helps a great deal.”
Like Nunez, Ellis and Taneyhill were among the nation’s most highly recruited prep quarterbacks before signing with the Gamecocks. Ellis started for the Gamecocks from 1986-1989. He threw for 3,020 yards, 20 touchdowns and 22 interceptions with a completion percentage of 60.3 as a freshman.
“I think the (verbal) leadership is overblown, because you have to do it in a game,” Ellis said. “Guys know when you’re faking it, and that, if you’re not a real, true talker, you can’t do that.”
The nonverbal communication can go farther than the words, anyway, Ellis said.
“Things like making a block, like being there lifting early and patting guys on the back,” he said. “On the field, they kind of want an even keel, level guy who is not up and down a whole lot.”
Nunez isn’t worried about earning his teammates’ respect, he said Tuesday.
“We are all people,” he said. “I really don’t see it age-wise, I just go out there and try to tell them things to do and they tell me things to do, sometimes, since I’m young, and it works out that way.”
Gamecocks vs. Tigers
Who: USC (2-2) at Missouri (3-1)
When: Saturday, noon
Where: Faurot Field, Columbia, Mo.
Line: Missouri by 4