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May 11, 2009
BEAUFORT, S.C. - Jimmy Legree has heard the talk, and he watched from afar as fellow freshman Stephon Gilmore rose rapidly to earn a spot as a first-team cornerback during spring practice.
Legree is hardly a bystander. Due to South Carolina's razor-thin depth in the secondary, he knows that come August, he could end up alongside Gilmore on the two-deep depth chart at cornerback.
Could it really happen? Assistant Ellis Johnson has acknowledged Legree will get a long look in preseason camp to see if he can handle the pressure of contributing right away. Legree, for his part, insists he'll be prepared to face any challenge thrown his way by the South Carolina coaches.
"Whatever the team needs," the 6-foot, 170-pound Legree said. "If they need me to play, I'll play. They've told me to come prepared to play. I might not start, but I could be in the rotation."
Legree must prove he can handle the quicker pace of SEC football just as Gilmore skillfully did in the first couple of weeks of spring practice.
"I know it's going to be much faster," Legree said. "I just have to try to keep up. I'll adjust to it pretty well, I think."
Legree reports to South Carolina on July 5 for the start of the second semester of summer school along with a large number of other freshmen.
A three-year starter, Legree began his high school career as a safety but moved to cornerback, where he excelled for the Eagles. But he also played quarterback, receiver, kick returner and tailback during his high school career at Beaumont.
"Jimmy is a lot like [former Beaufort standout] Devin [Taylor]", Beaufort coach Mark Clifford said. "He's a quiet kid, but not as quiet as Devin. He's not a vocal leader, but like Devin he was a leader. He got good grades and did what he was supposed to do. I was real confident on the corner locking down. He was very dependable. All you had to do was come to one of our games and see how we used him. He didn't miss a snap on defense the whole year."
Honored as the 2008 Beaufort Gazette/Island Packet Defensive Player of the Year, Legree was rated by Rivals.com as the 32nd-best player in the Palmetto State, and was a member of the Shrine Bowl team along with several future Gamecock teammates, including Gilmore.
"We didn't talk much during the week but after the game I told him, 'I'll see you at Carolina,' " Legree said.
Although he feels he has done enough to qualify academically (he said he scored 950 on the SAT), Legree is completing his schoolwork at Beaufort High School. The final day of classes at BHS is May 29 with graduation scheduled for June 9.
"Right now, I'm just focusing on getting my grades right," Legree said. "I'm trying not to slack off in my senior year. Other than that, I'm trying to get in the weight room. There is a temptation to slack off, but not much. Coach Beamer told me not to slack off the last couple of months. It's more important than ever."