There are few certainties for the 2016 South Carolina football team, and the biggest reason for that is there aren’t enough known commodities on the roster. Who might be the Gamecocks’ offensive and defensive MVPs come December? Who knows? But here’s a summer list of 10 players who could make a big impact in head coach Will Muschamp’s first season.
6-1, 230 pounds
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A jewel of the 2014 recruiting class, Allen-Williams hasn’t been able to reach his potential in part due to playing out of position and at several positions. He’s now at what looks like a natural spot for him, strong side linebacker, and he’ll get plenty of chances to rush the quarterback if he shows a talent for it.
Freshman wide receiver
6-3, 205 pounds
An early enrollee who used spring practice to work back fully from a high school knee injury, Edwards was a four-star recruit and a finalist for the state’s Mr. Football award. He had more than 2,500 yards and 32 touchdowns in his prep career despite missing half his senior season, and he’s already unofficially considered the team’s No. 2 wide receiver.
Sophomore tight end
6-4, 250 pounds
First-year offensive coordinator Kurt Roper loves tight ends any time, and he especially loves tight ends when he doesn’t have a lot of wide receivers he is comfortable with, which is the case in year one at South Carolina. Hurst, a former walk-on who played minor league baseball before coming to college, will get the first shot at getting the tight end touches.
6-1, 180 pounds
The No. 1 junior college cornerback recruit in the country will be looked at to take a starting spot beginning with his first practice in August. The Gamecocks spent spring practice rotating players in the secondary looking for an acceptable foursome, and King could stabilize the whole unit if he’s as good as advertised.
Senior defensive end
6-4, 270 pounds
The Greenwood native was solid but not spectacular (45 tackles, three sacks) in his first season after transferring from Hutchinson Community College. First-year head coach Will Muschamp and defensive line coach Lance Thompson have had success helping players make that step, and they’ll need to with Lewis to get some pass rush this team.
6-0, 206 pounds
This early enrollee might not take the starting job away from Perry Orth, but it’s a good bet he will get on the field this year even if he doesn’t. McIlwain’s athletic ability will make him a tempting change-of-pace option for the Gamecocks even if Orth is the regular starter. On top of that, Muschamp was undone at Florida partially due to injuries at quarterback so they’ll have two quarterbacks ready at all times.
Sophomore wide receiver
6-0, 205 pounds
South Carolina’s staff has not been shy about putting a lot of expectations on Samuel, despite the fact that he has only 12 career receptions and three career starts. Those 12 receptions make the Inman native (seen in the video below) the Gamecocks’ leading returning receiver, and the only potential replacement for Pharoh Cooper at the moment.
Junior wide receiver/running back
5-10, 204 pounds
The Gamecocks are fairly desperate for offensive playmakers. Smith could be a Swiss army knife. He’s bounced between cornerback and running back and wide receiver throughout his career, and he worked at both running back and wide receiver this spring. He’ll be on offense this year, but which of those spots probably will be determined by how other players perform.
6-0, 236 pounds
Walton made intermittent appearances in the starting lineup in 2015 but figures to be a more regular presence this year because of Skai Moore’s neck injury and Walton’s fit in the new defensive system. Walton had 42 tackles last year and was tied for third on the team with five tackles-for-loss.
Junior running back
6-1, 216 pounds
The former four-star prospect stood out to the new staff this spring, but the fall is the key time for Williams, who each preseason looks like he’ll be a major part of the rushing attack only to fall back in the ranks. Now, the starting job is his and running backs coach Bobby Bentley thinks he’s made some strides with Williams’ field vision.