The Daily Gamecock

Football seniors share college experiences, prepare for final season at South Carolina

FILE—Redshirt senior wide receiver Dakereon Joyner jumps over with the ball against Charleston Southern University at Williams Brice Stadium on Sept. 7, 2019. The Gamecocks won 72-10 over the Buccaneers.
FILE—Redshirt senior wide receiver Dakereon Joyner jumps over with the ball against Charleston Southern University at Williams Brice Stadium on Sept. 7, 2019. The Gamecocks won 72-10 over the Buccaneers.

Between two losing seasons and multiple coaching changes, it's been a long journey for some veterans on the South Carolina football team. 

While transferring was an option, many decided to work through the struggles and give new head coach Shane Beamer a chance to prove himself. Since Beamer's hiring in December 2020, the players have bought into what he has done so far, winning seven games in his first season.  

"The first thing I can think of is (Beamer is) a players-first coach — a coach that loves us. We love our head coach to death," redshirt senior wide receiver Dakereon Joyner said at SEC Media Days. "The more you love him, the harder you play for him. We're very grateful to have him as our head coach, and we're looking forward to year two."

Outside of coaching changes, Joyner has experienced plenty of hardship. He arrived on campus as a freshman in 2018, looking to become the next great quarterback at South Carolina. As the 2019 season went on, he learned it wouldn't work out that way, as then-freshman Ryan Hilinski became the starter. 

Instead, Joyner had to use his athleticism to play other positions. Even after becoming a full-time wide receiver, he didn't rule out the possibility of transferring. 

"I definitely considered it, just having the opportunity to go play the quarterback position again, you know what I'm saying, but my loyalty lies with the University of South Carolina," Joyner said. "They mean everything to me. I'm not going nowhere. I love it here and I'm very appreciative of the fans and all the coaches and stuff like that."

After stepping back in as quarterback during last year's Duke's Mayo Bowl and completing every pass he threw, Joyner is back to feeling confident in himself.

"That's what I think, personally, I needed. Something to just top off with," Joyner said. "But it was really good for my confidence and I'm very grateful for that experience. I thank God for allowing me to have that moment."

Going into his final year, Joyner said he'll be playing both quarterback and wide receiver, while doing anything the team asks. 

"My goal is to be consistent this year, be the most reliable and dependable guy for my team and be acceptable to every role that I'm asked to play," Joyner said.  

Following a season in which he put up career-high numbers, senior defensive lineman Zacch Pickens could have left for the NFL Draft. Instead, he decided to return to South Carolina, with unfinished business to take care of.

"I wanted to graduate and my mama wanted me to graduate. So, I knew if I would've left, I wasn't going to come back," Pickens said. "So, it's better to get it now while I have the resources that I have right now to graduate, and I'm almost there."

Beamer said he was excited to have Pickens back for one more season, saying that he and the other veterans are "everything we want this program to be about."

"Zacch, like I said, could have been a high draft pick if he hadn't chose to come back. He didn't. He came back to us, which we're thankful for, and if anything, he's gotten better," Beamer said. 

A five-star prospect coming out of high school, Pickens recorded 38 tackles and four sacks in 2021. He played a big role in the Gamecocks' defensive turnaround last year in which the unit finished 41st in the country in total defense.

"Zacch's a talented football player, a big guy who plays very hard, he practices very well. He takes coaching, so it's really good to see those guys," defensive coordinator Clayton White said last season. "Anytime a defensive tackle starts to get in the spotlight it means he's doing a lot of good work and doing some good things and people are taking notice."

Even though he was satisfied with how the team performed last season, Pickens said they're looking to improve in 2022. 

"Every time we turn around, we choose to get better. There's not one thing that we take for granted," Pickens said. "That's one thing we're trying to do better than we did last year. Last year was good but we're trying to do even better."

Down in the trenches, redshirt senior right guard Jovaughn Gwyn will be regrouping with an offensive line that returns all five starters. Gwyn said the group has hailed a lot of criticism because of their inconsistent play in 2021. 

"Being an offensive lineman, they only realize the bad, not very much the good. But it's just one of them things like that's the type of person you have to be. And you have to be willing to take on that role," Gwyn said. 

In his four years with the Gamecocks, Gwyn has started 34 games, which is the most amongst starters. He was also named a team captain last year, an honor he values deeply.

"Being a game captain, I'll say just really showing that me personally, I'm ready for everyone else," Gwyn said. "Everybody's nervous before a game, but the less people that look nervous, it helps the team out a lot. So, that's one of the things, just bringing the confidence in the locker room."

One thing that will change for Gwyn is who he's going to be blocking for. After a year in which South Carolina started four quarterbacks, redshirt junior Spencer Rattler is lined up to start under center this season. 

Gwyn said the Oklahoma transfer has already become a leader on and off the field. 

"We're gelling together, so getting used to his cadence, getting used to his tendencies and everything like that is going well," Gwyn said.

South Carolina will begin its fall camp on Aug. 5,  summoning the beginning of the end for Joyner, Pickens and Gwyn. Right now, Beamer said he's just happy to have them around for one last ride. 

"Really like this 2022 group that we have. I love being their coach. I love coaching this team. The work ethic, the maturity, the hunger to improve has been evident since January when we came back after the bowl win," Beamer said. 


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