For the better part of the 2000s, Gamecock fans have been privy to a succession of marquee receivers. For ten years, Troy Williamson, Sidney Rice, Kenny McKinely and Alshon Jeffery dazzled Williams-Brice crowds, with each outshining his predecessor until Alshon Jeffery set the high-water marks with 3,042 yards and 23 touchdowns. And lo, it appeared the next great garnet pass-snatcher had arrived with the 2012 recruiting class: Shaq Roland. The homegrown four-star recruit had fans thinking "Alshon 2.0" from the get-go.
Instead, Roland's freshman year was typical. He played sparingly, targeted just 18 times and catching only five passes for 80 yards and a lone touchdown. After finishing the season 11th in team receiving yards, word spread that Shaq had struggled to grasp the system. This gave some fans pause, but I'd argue that a freshman playing like a freshman isn't exactly shocking. Plus, it was offset by Ace Sanders having an unexpectedly productive season. (Too productive, in fact.) The good news for Shaq is that all signs point to his having dedicating himself to learning the system and escalating his level of effort this offseason. He was often the source of glowing spring practice reports, and co-earned the spring award for Most Improved Wide Receiver.
Roland shared the award with Shamier Jeffery, who has purportedly metamorphosed into something resembling an SEC receiver after spending his first two seasons kicking pebbles on the sidelines. In a way, it's like a new recruit walked into the corps. Don't forget that 247Sports rated the younger Jeffery a four-star prospect, so there was always a perception that he could be a difference-maker. And after two seasons of allegedly displaying minimal effort and failing to impress coaches, he seems to have righted the ship and is tracking to land firmly in the two-deep come August.
But the new threat that excites me the most? Kwinton Smith, the heavily recruited four-star prospect who redshirted in 2012. He looked silky-smooth hauling in a 47-yard bomb from Connor Mitch in the spring game, and I can personally attest to the fact that, in pads, he looks like a prototypical big-bodied receiver (think TO or Brandon Marshall, sans the attitude I do hope.) He's listed at 6'4", 206 and could present the jump-ball threat South Carolina lacked in 2012. After all, Smith did earn the Spring Practice Big Plays award.
As far as those with field time are concerned, South Carolina returns 19 of its 29 receiving touchdowns (and seven of the departed were Ace's) as well as three of its five leading receivers, yardage-wise, including top receiver Bruce Ellington. Speed threats Damiere Byrd and Nick Jones also return. Other receivers who should play include redshirt freshman Jody Fuller and redshirt sophomore K.J. Brent.
Also, we have a 6'8" receiver named Matthew Harvey. Cool.
With the capable new faces joining our established threats, the tea leaves suggest that the our quarterbacking tandem won't suffer for a lack of targets. Should the 2013 receiving corps even flirt with its potential, look for it to reinforce a multi-faceted and powerful South Carolina offense. And, worth noting, our most talented pass-catchers may not even be wide receivers, as Busta Anderson and Jerrell Adams would be swift to remind us. But we'll save that for another post.
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