Bobby Bentley’s return to South Carolina came with plenty of built-in subplots.
The most obvious and immediate was successful-high-school-coach-comes-home. Bentley led Byrnes High School to four straight state titles from 2002-2005 and then served as head coach at Presbyterian College before returning to Byrnes as offensive coordinator. Things only got more interesting this summer when Bentley’s son Jake bypassed his final year of high school to sign with the Gamecocks and join his dad in garnet and black this fall.
“I’m living the dream, getting to coach in my home state, getting to coach in the stadium where we won state championships, where I played in a state championship,” said Bobby Bentley, the Gamecocks’ first-year running backs coach. “I am so thankful to be in this situation, and I’m going to do everything I can to make it better.”
But the story that has dominated Bentley’s first fall at South Carolina has nothing to do with him or his son. Bentley’s last three weeks have been taken up largely by “The Remaking of David Williams.”
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“As a coach you are trying to take a player where he can’t take himself. I think David has tried to do it himself a certain way,” Bentley said. “We are going to get David to another level. We talk about the new David. We are talking about a whole makeover – the new David Williams. He knows exactly what we are trying to do, make him tougher, make him more physical, use his physical talents on every single play to the maximum ability.”
Williams, a 6-foot-1, 220-pound junior, has played in 21 games at South Carolina, starting four. He’s the only running back on the team with more than 11 career rushing yards, and he entered fall camp as the No. 1 running back on the depth chart.
That lasted one day.
“After the first day of practice it was a clear message – he was fifth string,” Bentley said. “He got the message loud and clear, and the last two days have been his best practices.”
The Gamecocks’ coaches have stressed to Williams to play more physically, get higher knee lift when he runs and get up-field after one cut, Bentley said.
“He understands what his role is and what he needs to do,” Bentley said. “David is a good guy, he wants to do well, we just have to make him the new David.”
While Williams fell out of favor, redshirt freshman A.J. Turner has been on the opposite arc. Turner remains on track to start the season-opener against Vanderbilt on Sept. 1.
“He just brings energy to the table,” Bentley said.
As an illustration, Bentley pointed out that during Monday’s practice, the team’s Catapult monitoring system clocked Turner at more than 12 mph 56 times. The next-closest back did that around 20 times, Bentley said.
“He plays the way we want our team to be – effort, toughness and discipline,” Bentley said. “He epitomizes what we want to be right now. He’s sharpens us. He’s making our room better. It’s made David better no doubt.”
South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp has predicted a “by committee” approach to the running back position this fall, a position that Bentley seconded on Tuesday. Former walk-ons Rod Talley and Darius Paulk will be part of that committee along with Turner and Williams, Bentley said.
“Coach Muschamp and (offensive coordinator Kurt) Roper and I will sit down as far as exact plays and exact carries,” Bentley said, “but right now we’re still battling, still competing every single day for playing time and reps.”