Josh Kendall

Deebo Samuel ready to take over Pharoh’s playmaker role

The SEC’s stars showed up in Hoover, Ala., last week for the conference’s annual media days. Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly took a swipe at his old school, which happens to be Clemson. LSU tailback Leonard Fournette talked about helping South Carolina flood victims. Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett talked about the poetry he writes.

It was a week for the schools the roll out their best players and brightest stars. South Carolina took offensive lineman Mason Zandi and defensive lineman Marquavius Lewis, stalwart seniors.

And Deebo Samuel? The Inman native is a sophomore wide receiver, and one with 12 career receptions at that. How’d he get an invitation?

“I think it says a lot to him about what I think of him as a player,” Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp said. “He’s a guy who really caught my eye in the offseason.”

South Carolina’s new coaching staff has made little secret of its affinity for Samuel since the Gamecocks first took the field for spring practice. It’s not just that South Carolina is starved for offensive playmakers, although they are, it’s because of Samuel’s attitude, work ethic and the explosive athletic ability he has shown in the team’s offseason program. Samuel even spent some time prepping for his media days appearance.

“When coach came and told me I was chosen to come here, I was like, ‘Wow, what an honor,’ ” he said. “I didn’t know what it was really about, so I Googled Pharoh (Cooper’s) name to see what he did last year.”

He’s hoping he can match what Cooper did last year on the field, as well. Samuel finished his 2015 season, which was limited to five games because of a hamstring injury, with those 12 catches for 161 yards and one touchdown. That’s a far cry from the 973 receiving yards and eight touchdowns Cooper had last year, but it’s those kinds of numbers this year’s South Carolina needs to be successful on offense.

“When he’s been able to stay healthy, he’s been a very productive player for us, so we need to keep him healthy,” Muschamp said. “For us to play well offensively, he needs to have a good year.”

The early expectations are not new for Samuel. He started the first game of his collegiate career against North Carolina last year, but suffered a hamstring injury in that game that limited him to three catches in the first three games of the season and eventually shelved him for seven straight games. He returned for the final two games and caught nine passes for 131 yards against The Citadel and Clemson.

“The last two games I was able to come out and show what I can do,” Samuel said.

Samuel views Muschamp’s media days invitation “as motivation to go out there and do what I can do and go out there and do what he’s seen me doing.”

Samuel’s given first name is Tyshun, but he’s been known as Deebo since his father gave him the nickname because of the neighborhood bully of the same name in the movie “Friday.”

“My dad said it came from an old movie,” Samuel said. “He said when I was a little kid I liked to take stuff.”

Now the Gamecocks are hoping Samuel is ready to take over as the focal point in their offense.