The Daily Gamecock

As the team battles through injuries, Gamecock football upperclassmen said they are confident in freshmen

<p>Gamecock football head coach Shane Beamer speaks at the Gamecock Football Operations Center on Oct. 24, 2023. Beamer discussed how the team is preparing for the last away game of the season against Texas A&amp;M.</p>
Gamecock football head coach Shane Beamer speaks at the Gamecock Football Operations Center on Oct. 24, 2023. Beamer discussed how the team is preparing for the last away game of the season against Texas A&M.

The South Carolina football team heads into its final road game of the season with a banged-up roster after falling 34-12 to Missouri this past weekend in the team's third straight loss and fifth overall.

As a result, South Carolina's true freshmen have been forced to take on a more involved role. But during Tuesday's press conference, their upperclassman teammates said they are confident in the freshmen players' abilities to produce for the rest of the season.

The offensive line has been hit especially hard with injuries this year and has been forced to adopt a "next man up" mentality.

Freshman offensive linemen Trovon Baugh and Tree Babalade graduated to the starting line up early in their Gamecock football careers after stepping in for older injured players. Babalade has started in five of his six appearances this season, and Baugh has started in three of the six games he has appeared in. 

During the game against Missouri, both Baugh and Babalade were injured and, according to head coach Shane Beamer, their status is in question for the upcoming game against Texas A&M. The same can be said for redshirt freshman offensive lineman Cason Henry and redshirt junior offensive lineman Vershon Lee, who were unavailable last week. 

“It’s concerning when you have that many injuries at one position,” Beamer said. “I’ve never, in all my years of coaching, been around a year where you’ve had that many injuries at one position.”

The wide receiver room is also feeling the loss of some star players.

Senior Antwane Wells Jr. got hurt in the first game against North Carolina and has seen very limited action. Fifth-year Xavier Legette, who has emerged as the Gamecocks' top receiver in Wells' absence, may also miss some time after suffering an upper-body injury against Missouri.

Just like it did at offensive line, the Gamecocks turned to younger players to replace of Legette. Freshman wide receiver Nyck Harbor has appeared in all seven games, catching four passes for 102 yards and one touchdown. Redshirt sophomore O’Mega Blake has also seen his role increase and, like Harbor, has played in each game, starting in four. He has totaled 204 yards and one touchdown on 15 catches this season. 

During the press conference, Graduate student tight end Trey Knox said he has taken notice of Blake's hard work and talent. 

He’s been very consistent, (his) practice habits (are) very good, and he cares so much. He wants to be perfect,” Knox said. “I think he can be a weapon for us. He’s a heck of a football player.”

Freshman defensive back Jalon Kilgore has also made an impact on the team early in his collegiate career. His rise to the top of the depth chart began when sophomore defensive back Nick Emmanwori suffered an injury during South Carolina's first defensive series of the season. Since then, Kilgore has made a team-high 61 tackles and forced one interception from his six starts. 

Kilgore said he was hoping to make an impact anywhere he could going into his freshman season. 

“If I got an extra rep in practice, even if it was just one extra rep with the ones, make an impact,” Kilgore said. “When I was with the twos, I got 10 to 12 reps to keep making plays and just keep showing that I am ready to play whenever you put me out there.”

Beamer said through all of the younger players’ trials, he hasn’t once felt that the freshmen on the field couldn’t rise to the occasion. 

"None of those guys have I ever felt like, 'Oh my god, this moment's too big for them.' Not one time," Beamer said.

Redshirt sophomore defensive tackle T.J. Sanders said he’s focusing on keeping the younger players on board.

"(I'm) just trying to just make sure everybody is staying in the fight. We're not having the season we expected to have, but we have five games left," Sanders said. "I'm just trying to keep the young guys on the ship. I don't want anyone's heads to get low."

Knox is trying to use a similar leadership mentality as Sanders, being an older player in the building.  He said he wants to be a "guiding voice" for young players on the team. 

“Guys are learning and playing their butts off trying to step up and make plays to help this football team,” Knox said. “I think that as leaders, as older guys, we’re trying to do a better job of helping those guys come along and just really pouring into those guys. I’m excited for what these young guys will do.”