With the bye week behind us and Georgia Week ramping up, it’s a good time to pull back, look at the bigger picture of the season so far, and acknowledge some hard-working Gamecocks.
Offensive MVP: Ryan Hilinski
I mean, who else? Pressed into early service after a season-ending injury to Jake Bentley in the opener, the true freshman Hilinski has handled the big stage with style and grace, showing the talent that made him such a prized quarterback recruit. While he’s had his struggles — he’s still young and learning, after all — there’s no question that his future is bright, and he’s overall playing well enough to help South Carolina win games. It’s hard to ask for more from a guy who’s had to cut his teeth against the likes of Alabama. Without Hilinski, it’s not a stretch to say this season would truly be lost.
Defensive MVP: Javon Kinlaw
Had to go with our favorite one-man wrecking crew, who has continued his stellar play along the defensive line with a team-high four sacks, two fumble recoveries, and a pass defended. The line got off to a bit of a rocky start this season, but seems to be settling in as one of the stronger units for South Carolina. Kinlaw is a big (literal and figurative) reason why.
Honorable mention here goes to young linebacker Ernest Jones, who has suddenly shown up in a big way for South Carolina this year. He leads the team in tackles (38), has two passes defended, and an interception. Keep an eye on this one as a possible rising star.
Comeback Player: Rico Dowdle
Long plagued by injuries, Dowdle is finally healthy and playing with an aggression and explosiveness we haven’t seen from him on a consistent basis since his freshman year. He currently leads the team with 370 rushing yards and four touchdowns, and has 72 yards through the air as well. South Carolina has desperately needed an every-down back to separate himself from the pack and shoulder the load, and Dowdle is showing that he can be that guy, which leads me to our next award recipient...
Most Important Newcomer: Tavien Feaster
Setting aside Hilinski, who was already chosen for another honor, this is probably one of the more predictable Spurlatives, given the wide-open ability for someone — anyone — to make an impact at running back. Gamecock fans were excited to land this Clemson transfer in the offseason, and so far, Feaster has largely delivered. With 290 yards and three touchdowns, and operating mostly as the second-string back, Feaster hasn’t revolutionized the position for the Gamecocks. But he’s given them another sorely-needed and reliable option, and perhaps most importantly, has lit a competitive fire under Dowdle.
Most Improved: Kyle Markway
Most South Carolina fans and observers had serious questions about the tight end position entering 2019, and their fears were well-founded: With Hayden Hurst now in the NFL and presumed starter Kiel Pollard forced to give up football due to injury, there was a sudden void of talent. Enter Markway, who had previously been buried on the depth chart but is now third on the team in receiving, with 14 catches for 172 yards and two touchdowns. Sure, those aren’t eye-popping numbers, but Markway has stabilized a position that could’ve been a real concern for this offense.
Most “Totally Getting Drafted”: Bryan Edwards
Is Edwards one of the most quietly productive stars the Gamecocks have had? He’s poised to shatter several program records by the conclusion of the 2019 campaign, but tends to fly a little under the radar when pundits talk about the studs of the SEC. With his skills and measurables, Edwards was always going to get drafted, but he’s really making his case this year: He leads the Gamecocks in receiving with 27 receptions for 348 yards and three scores, and has looked flat out dominant on many of his touches. He looks like a man intent on making his stock rise.
Special Teams MVP: Joseph Charlton
It may not be sexy, but a good punter can still be a weapon, and that’s exactly what Charlton has been for the Gamecocks. With 24 punts so far, he’s currently sporting a career-best 49.8-yard average, and has done his part to give South Carolina’s opponents poor field position. Charlton’s consistency can’t be appreciated enough.