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August 22, 2013
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South Carolina's practice field was littered with players in yellow jerseys over the past week, but one of them wasn't planning to stay off the field for long. After an agonizing week-and-a-half wait to return to practice from a foot sprain, fifth-year senior defensive end Chaz Sutton was back in pads working with his teammates at the Proving Grounds on Wednesday. After all, how much longer could a mere foot sprain keep a 6-foot-5, 263-pound beast of a man like Sutton off the field?
"I don't know if I would have just sat out [the North Carolina game from the injury]," said Sutton after practice. "I think God would have had to strike me with lightning for me to sit out."
Wednesday was Sutton's second straight day back at practice, and he said that while he's back to full health, he's still shaking off some of the rust that accumulated while watching from the sidelines.
"[The foot] is feeling great," Sutton said. "It's just getting back to what I was when I first left out of practice and just trying to get back in the grove of things."
"It was a normal day, but I was rusty," added Sutton of his practice Wednesday. "I was a little off. You can tell, when you miss a week and a half or two weeks of practice, you always come back and you aren't going to feel the same at first."
The acceleration of Sutton's return certainly wasn't hurt by his sheer will to get back on the field. The former four-star prospect out of Fork Union Military Academy said he was initially upset about getting injured, but channeled that emotion into his drive to get back on the field. Sutton became a regular in USC's treatment room, visiting as often as two to three times a day to see if there was anything he could do to speed up his return.
"It was crazy," Sutton said when asked how hard it was to watch from the sidelines. "I asked the trainers every day even though I knew was hurt, 'man, can I practice today or do something, just whatever.' Just to make myself feel like I was getting better out here. It was all precaution, where I could just stay off of it and make sure I was doing the right things so it won't turn into a bigger problem later on down the road."
Predicted by many to have a breakout year in the garnet and black, Sutton is one of just four scholarship seniors on the team. Though he's only notched two starts in his four-year career at South Carolina, Sutton has 37 games of playing experience under his belt, logging 43 career tackles - 11.5 of them for loss - and six sacks.
Four months removed from receiving Outstanding Weight Room honors for the defense at the 2013 Garnet and Black Spring Game, the Savannah, Ga., product is ready to help the defensive line send a message to a pair of pass-happy offenses at the start of South Carolina's schedule.
"Any game we go into, we want to always prove that we can get to the quarterback quick and fast, just set the tone with our front four and be that way the whole night," Sutton said.
While acknowledging that having a player of Jadeveon Clowney's caliber opposite him on the defensive line should free him up for better pass-rushing opportunities, Sutton isn't tying his success this season to the amount of attention opposing lines give Clowney.
"It could be a great thing, but then you never know," Sutton said. "You never know what the gameplan is going into these games, so you just got to see what happens once you get out there and go off of it after the first two or three series."
Sutton praised redshirt freshman defensive end Darius English's play filling in for him in practice recently, but looks forward to whipping himself back into football shape in time to play North Carolina for the season opener.
"I'll be fresher (having missed practice), but I've got to get back in football shape," Sutton said. "I haven't been out here in a while, so I'm just going to try to go through practice every day, run a little bit after practice and do whatever I can to make sure I'm ready for [North Carolina's] fast-paced up-tempo offense.
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