With all the attention paid to the questions surrounding South Carolina’s defense heading into the 2016 season, it’s been easy to overlook one of the exclamation points.
Bryson Allen-Williams is going to be the Gamecocks’ best defensive player in 2016.
“Being a defensive guy my whole life, I turn on the tape and I see the guys that flash, that have a little oomph to them,” first-year South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp said. “He has that.”
Allen-Williams, a 6-foot, 230-pound junior linebacker, came to South Carolina with plenty of fanfare in 2014 but has languished while playing multiple positions. His career totals – 50 tackles and one-half sack – aren’t what was forecast when South Carolina held off late pushes from Alabama and home-state Georgia to sign Allen-Williams out of Cedar Grove High School in Ellenwood, Ga., two years ago.
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Muschamp was actually the first major college coach to offer Allen-Williams a scholarship. That came in 2012 as Muschamp was leading Florida to an 11-2 record. The Gators never followed up strongly on that initial offer, Allen-Williams said, which has turned out to be to Muschamp’s benefit in the long run.
“I always told Coach Muschamp that he was my favorite, and he always told me that I was a guy he missed out on and wanted real bad,” Allen-Williams said. “I tell him every day that I was excited when he came. I love Coach Muschamp. He’s a great guy. He’s very intense, don’t get me wrong. He’s going to get into you, he’s going to chew into you when you mess up, but he’s a good coach and he knows what he’s talking about.”
In Muschamp’s first meeting with Allen-Williams, the coach told the player what he thought of him and how much he expected of him this season.
“They just want me to step up into a leader role,” Allen-Williams said. “We have a lot of guys on our team who are seniors, but they see it in me to be a potential leader on this team this year. They want me to go out every day and give 100 percent effort and hopefully guys on the defense, they follow suit.”
Muschamp has compared Allen-Williams to former Florida linebacker Neiron Ball, a multi-talented defender who was a fifth round pick by the Oakland Raiders in 2015.
“He has a vast skill set and we need to take advantage of that,” Muschamp said. “He brings us some fast twitch. He’s going to play all over the place. We need to involve him in the rush whether it’s internally or on the edge.”
The Gamecocks again want Allen-Williams to play several positions but not out of desperation this time. He will start at the weakside linebacker position and will also play the Buck defensive end position in South Carolina’s Cinco package.
“I’m comfortable with wherever they put me,” Allen-Williams said. “I am having a good time. I’m trying to push myself every day.”
Allen-Williams’ goals for the season are simple.
“Just play hard,” he said. “If I play hard, the sky is the limit. If everyone on our defense plays hard, we’ll win a lot of games.”
Who: USC vs. Vanderbilt
When: 8 p.m., Thursday
Where: Vanderbilt Stadium, Nashville, Tenn.
TV: ESPN; Radio: 107.5 FM
Line: Vanderbilt by 3 1/2