After joining the South Carolina football team as walk-on in 2017, redshirt senior Jaylan Foster is tied with four other players for the most interceptions in Division I football.
"Jaylan is on a different level right now, at the highest level in college football, as far as the SEC," South Carolina defensive coordinator Clayton White said in September.
Foster has been named as a semifinalist for the 2021 Jim Thorpe award, which is given to the best defensive back in college football each season.
Foster, a native of Duncan, South Carolina, was a two-sport athlete at Byrnes High School, playing both football and basketball. He played nearly every snap and had almost 1,400 all-purpose yards, scoring 13 times as a senior in addition to 49 tackles and three interceptions on defense.
Brian Lane, Foster's high school football coach said he almost did not play football in high school following a State Championship in basketball.
At Byrnes Foster wanted to strictly play receiver, but Lane had other plans.
"I made a deal with him, I told him, 'If you play every down for me on defense, I promise you, you will play every other series on offense,'" Lane said. “It turned out he probably played more offense than he did on defense.”
One of Lane's favorite stories from Foster's days at Byrnes, was his late game heroics against ranked Mallard Creek High School. With 40 seconds left, Foster propelled the Rebels to victory
"Jaylan pats me on the butt and says 'Don’t worry about it, Coach. I got you,'" Lane said. "He runs it all the way back down to the 10-yard line. So we were able to kick a field goal and beat them."
After not receiving any Division I offers out of high school, Foster decided to play at Gardner-Webb University, an FCS program. He had a breakout freshman season in 2016, in which he was named Big South Freshman of the year.
Foster transferred to South Carolina in 2017, initially joining the team as a walk-on but worked his way up to be placed on scholarship in the fall of 2020 by former head coach Will Muschamp.
Prior to transferring, Lane initially advised Foster to stay at Garnder-Webb.
"But I'm glad he didn't listen to me." Lane said. “I tell my kids, always follow your heart. Always tell, you don’t let anyone put a lid on you... If your heart tells you to do it, you go after it."
Foster has been an essential part of the Gamecock defense since being placed on scholarship, tallying 74 solo tackles, five interceptions, and two forced fumbles in 19 games for South Carolina.
Senior safety R.J. Roderick said it has been amazing to see the growth on the field that Foster has shown in his time in Columbia.
"To see the journey that Jaylan has went through, how hard he's worked, how much work he's put in. Just to see him in the spot that he's in right now, you can't do nothing but commend him and respect it," Roderick said.
Both Lane and South Carolina defensive coordinator Clayton White said Foster also acts like a coach on the field for other players.
"I'm proud of how he's bringing other guys along and being an influence of the other players on the defense and the football team," White said.
A clip of Foster went viral following the Georgia game, where he was seen adjusting teammate Darius Rush's body language after Rush gave up a touchdown.
"I mean that video — just as a little testament to what he means to this program and since we've been here through the transition, he's been a huge part of what's going on," said White.
Foster will look to add to his legend in the final two games of the season in front of the home fans at Williams Brice Stadium.