8 Gamecocks trying to climb depth chart
After winning 22 of their last 26 games, the Gamecocks are hoping that the 2013 season will mean a trip to the SEC Championship in Atlanta. South Carolina will need contributions from household names like Jadeveon Clowney, Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson, but here are eight players keep an eye on as USC tries to capture the conference title.
Ahmad Christian — Cornerback — Redshirt Sophomore
Christian missed spring practice while spending time as a member of the Gamecock baseball team and entered the fall as backup corner behind Victor Hampton. Christian, a native of Jacksonville, Fla., was named the team’s Most Improved Defensive Back during the spring of 2012. Christian played in 12 games last season, logging time on defense and special teams. He recorded eight tackles and two pass deflections during his redshirt freshman campaign. The two-sport athlete played both football and baseball at Trinity Christian High School, where he set a state championship record with a 99-yard run during his senior year of football.
K.J. Brent — Wide Receiver — Redshirt Sophomore
Brent received the offense’s Everyday Attitude Award at this year’s spring game. At 6-feet-4-inches, Brent is one of the tallest scholarship recipients on South Carolina’s roster. Brent entered fall camp as a backup to Bruce Ellington. He played in all 13 of USC’s games last season, spending time at wide receiver and on special teams as a member of the kickoff and punt return units. Brent caught three passes for 28 yards on the year, with two of his receptions coming against East Carolina. A native of Waxhaw, N.C., Brent was South Carolina’s first commitment for the class of 2011.
Mason Zandi — Offensive Tackle — Redshirt Freshman
The backup to Corey Robinson at left tackle, Zandi redshirted during the 2012 season. Zandi stands 6-feet-9-inches and is the tallest player on South Carolina’s roster. During the spring, Zandi won the award for Most Improved offensive lineman. Despite playing just one season of offensive line at Chapin High School, Zandi will likely be turned to if Robinson goes down with an injury. Zandi won the 3A shot put state championship during his junior season at Chapin. 247Sports.com rated Zandi as the 35th-best prospect in the state of South Carolina.
Kelvin Rainey — Linebacker — Redshirt Freshman
Rainey came to South Carolina as a tight end, but made the move to linebacker in the spring. Although he had not played linebacker since high school, Rainey was one of USC’s top performers during spring practice. Rainey recorded 87 tackles and three interceptions during his senior season at Yulee High School in Florida. Rainey will be competing for time at the “Will” linebacker position, along with Cedrick Cooper and Marcquis Roberts. The Florida native was one of three players to enroll early at USC in December 2011. Rainey redshirted the 2012 season and was named to the SEC Fall Academic Honor Roll.
Cedrick Cooper — Linebacker — Redshirt Sophomore
Cooper missed all of spring practice after suffering a knee injury during bowl practice last December, but is likely to start at the “Will” linebacker spot. He has been injured over the last two springs, as a lower back injury limited him during last season’s spring practice. Cooper played in 11 games during the 2012 season, registering one tackle and playing mostly on special teams. A Georgia native, Cooper played at Lithonia High School, where he logged 198 tackles over his final two seasons. Cooper played only two years of linebacker at Lithonia, and Scout.com rated him as the 45th-best outside linebacker prospect in the nation.
T.J. Gurley — Free Safety — Sophomore
Gurley made his first career start in place of the suspended D.J. Swearinger last year against Missouri and went on to earn a spot on the SEC All-Freshman team. Gurley played in eight games, including the season opener at Vanderbilt. The sophomore sat out spring practice while rehabbing a knee, which he injured covering a punt against Florida. Gurley was a three-year starter at Cairo High School in Georgia, where he was an all-state defensive back during his senior year. Gurley’s teams are a combined 34-6 over the last three seasons, with South Carolina going 11-2 last year and Cairo High finishing 11-3 and 12-1 during his last two years.
Cody Waldrop — Center — Redshirt Freshman
Waldrop was the recipient of the offense’s Most Improved Freshman award during this year’s spring game. He is looking to replace T.J. Johnson, the Gamecock center who finished his career in 2012 with more starts than any player in South Carolina history. Waldrop, a native of Seffner, Fla., was a three-time all-state selection at Armwood High School and capped off his prep career by leading Armwood to a 15-0 record and a Class 6A state championship. Waldrop’s state championship team finished the season ranked third in the nation. The Florida native is projected to be the only freshmen on South Carolina’s starting offensive line.
Tyler Hull — Punter — Redshirt Junior
Hull did not arrive in Columbia until a week after fall camp began last year, but the former Guilford College player asserted himself as USC’s top punter. Hull averaged 39.4 yards on 54 punts last season, including seven of more than 50 yards. Hull played at Mount Airy High School and ranks fifth all-time in North Carolina history with 162 career extra points. He was named South Carolina’s Most Improved Punter during this year’s spring practice, his first spring with the Gamecocks.