The fact that everyone calls South Carolina defensive end Quandeski Whitlow “Boosie” has nothing to do with the most famous Boosie of the moment – rap star Lil’ Boosie.
It’s a nickname given to him by his grandmother more than a decade ago, and he doesn’t know its origin.
“From about 5 or 6 years old, that’s what I was being called,” Whitlow said.
Either way, it rolls off Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier’s tongue smoothly, and more and more often of late.
“Coach Spurrier has a lot of jokes about my name,” Whitlow said. “I think he loves to call my name.”
Every South Carolina fan loves to say it after the first four games of the 2015 season. The sack-starved Gamecocks have been looking for someone to show a knack for rushing the quarterback since Jadeveon Clowney left following the 2013 season, and Whitlow has proven to be that guy in the first month of his collegiate career.
“I think you can have natural pass-rushing ability,” defensive co-coordinator Lorenzo Ward said. “Guys that have great first steps have a tendency to be really good pass-rushers. I think Boosie has a great first step. I’m not saying he has the step that Jadeveon Clowney has, but he’s pretty close as far as his first step is concerned.”
Whitlow, a 6-foot-3, 240-pound true freshman from Opelika, Ala., has four tackles, including two for loss, and one sack while playing as a reserve in the first four games. He has two quarterback hurries, including one that led to a Skai Moore interception against Kentucky, and he recorded a safety last week against UCF.
“It’s been great,” Whitlow said. “I put in my hard work every day out here on the field. When I came in, I came with a passion that I was going to work and earn my way on the field.”
Whitlow was recruited to South Carolina with the promise that anyone who could put pressure on the quarterback would get on the field quickly. The Gamecocks were 119th in the nation with 14 sacks last season, and their starting defensive ends – David Johnson and Marquavius Lewis at the moment – haven’t recorded a sack this season.
Whitlow is taking up the slack. Like Ward, Whitlow credits his quick first step for his ability to make an early impact.
“I only have one speed, and that’s go,” he said. “That’s what I have been working on since high school.”
Whitlow attended South Carolina’s summer football camp in 2014, and that’s where defensive line coach Deke Adams first noticed something football coaches call “body lean.” It’s a catch-all term for a player’s ability to lower their shoulders, turn their hips and/or change direction, all without losing forward momentum.
“The first thing is you are looking for quick-twitch guy, guys that have some explosiveness,” Adams said. “I was sold during camp on him.”
Just one great pass-rusher can change the complexion of a defense on third down, which is mostly the down on which Whitlow has played this season.
“Anytime you can rush four guys and have a chance to beat an (offensive) tackle, it’s good for calling your defense, because you can play with seven guys on the perimeter,” Ward said.
Whitlow still is working to master the fundamentals and technique needed to make him a regular on first and second down, when an offense’s increased options mean more responsibilities for a defender.
“He’s still got a ways to go, but we’re working on it,” Ward said. “Rushing the passer, I won’t say it’s a lot easier, but when you give a guy one thing to do, being a true freshman, it helps.”
That’s particularly true when the one thing is something his team needs so badly.
Gamecocks vs. Tigers
Who: USC (2-2) at Missouri (3-1)
When: Saturday, noon
Where: Faurot Field, Columbia, Mo.
Line: Missouri by 2.5