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July 21, 2011

Third and short: Gilchrist, Gilmore, Holloman



With preseason football practice starting on Aug. 3, GamecockCentral.com presents a new series that takes a look at three players per day who have either played in at least one game or appear on the post-spring two-deep depth chart.

QUA GILCHRIST, junior linebacker

Before South Carolina: Gilchrist was rated by Rivals.com as a two-star prospect out of Abbeville High School. Considered a running back, he was offered by Gardner-Webb and S.C. State. After two years (and one season, after redshirting) at Butler County (Kan.) Community College, Gilchrist was rated by Rivals.com as a four-star prospect. A linebacker, he was also offered by Houston, Kansas, Kansas State, North Texas and Toledo.

The measurables: 6-foot-1, 241 pounds

Prior seasons

2008: Redshirted at Butler County so he could learn the linebacker position.

2009: Had 61 tackles, including 45 solo stops with 10.5 for loss, as he earned All-Jayhawk Conference honors. Gilchrist had 4.5 sacks, broke up four passes and re-emerged on the recruiting radar, Rivals.com rating him the No. 24 JUCO prospect in the country.

2010: Played in the first three games of the season, mostly on special teams, but did not record any statistics.

Impact

A talented, versatile athlete, Gilchrist never got off on the right foot when he got to USC. A bum shoulder hindered him for the majority of the season and also knocked him out for the spring, and he's still recovering strength. The Gamecocks only play two straight linebackers in their sets (the other spot is the specialized spur), which was going to make it difficult for Gilchrist to crack the starting rotation anyway, but he had a chance when Shaq Wilson pulled his hamstring in the first week of preseason camp. He couldn't get the spot, though, as Josh Dickerson and Tony Straughter took over and then Gilchrist hurt his shoulder. Wilson is back this year, as is key backup Rodney Paulk, and each were listed as starters coming out of the spring. Gilchrist was third at middle linebacker behind Wilson and Reggie Bowens. If he can prove he's at full health at the beginning of preseason camp, perhaps he'll get some more looks, but Gilchrist has a tall mountain to climb if he's going to be a vital contributor.

STEPHON GILMORE, junior cornerback

Before South Carolina: Gilmore was rated by Rivals.com as a four-star prospect out of South Pointe High School. Considered an athlete after playing mostly quarterback in high school, Gilmore was also offered by Alabama, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Tennessee and Wisconsin.

The measurables: 6-foot-1, 194 pounds

Prior seasons

2009: Had 56 tackles with 39 solo stops, six for loss, three sacks, eight break-ups and an interception as he started every game at cornerback and earned Freshman All-American honors. Gilmore had a nose for the ball, recovering two fumbles, and also toted 15 punt returns for an average of 10.1 yards. Long regarded by coach Steve Spurrier as a possible option at quarterback, Gilmore took over on the second series against Clemson and rushed for 20 yards on five carries, completing his only pass attempt from 39 yards away to Alshon Jeffery. The Gamecocks scored on the series as Stephen Garcia returned under center but the fired-up team used the momentum to beat the Tigers for the first time in five years.

2010: Earned first-team All-SEC honors from the league's coaches and Phil Steele after leading the Gamecocks with 79 tackles, including six for loss and three sacks. Gilmore had three interceptions, one that he turned into an 80-yard touchdown jaunt against Furman, and recovered one fumble. He only took a handful of snaps at QB, mostly in the season-opener, and mostly stuck to corner as he was replaced at punt returner. As the Gamecocks' secondary rotated through players, Gilmore was one of the constants, although the solid numbers he had through the season were overshadowed by some of the big plays that were converted over him.

Impact

Gilmore is again on several preseason watch lists for SEC and national awards, and it's deserved. The talented prospect from Rock Hill has been a starter since Day 1 and has backed it up, although the lasting memories of 2010 are more about what he didn't do than what he did. For all of the great plays - cementing the Furman game with a pick-six, recovering a Georgia fumble inside the 5-yard-line to squelch a drive, picking off a pass against Florida - Gilmore was often caught looking on some great plays for the opponent. He played very well for the majority of the season, but his mistakes were heavily magnified.

The Gamecocks allowed seven 300-yard passing games last year, and it seemed that Gilmore was often the one defensive back that quarterbacks were throwing over. He was burned twice against Tennessee, allowing Denarius Moore to eventually collect 228 receiving yards, and Auburn's Darvin Adams had a field day during the SEC Championship Game at Gilmore's expense.

Gilmore re-dedicated himself over the offseason, watching more film and looking at what he was biting on so he can see it coming this season. A player with NFL aspirations - and what should be a high draft projection - has committed himself to having the best season he can have, and is aching to get back on the field and prove that the book on him is still being written. If he can knock away a ball or intercept against East Carolina in front of a near-hometown crowd, it could be the start of a magnificent season.

DEVONTE HOLLOMAN, junior linebacker

Before South Carolina: Holloman was rated by Rivals.com as a four-star prospect out of South Pointe High School. He was also offered by Clemson, Georgia, LSU, Michigan, North Carolina, NC State, Notre Dame and Tennessee.

The measurables: 6-foot-2, 226 pounds

Prior seasons

2009: Played in all 13 games with two starts as he and his best friend, Gilmore, enrolled early and went through spring practice. Collected 30 tackles, including one for loss, and broke up two passes, including an interception against Clemson that swung momentum into USC's corner.

2010: Started 10 of 14 games as he continued to improve. Holloman was third on the team with 69 tackles, including two for loss, and broke up three passes with two interceptions. Was starting to get in a groove in the middle of the season, collecting six tackles apiece against Furman, Auburn and Alabama, then notching a career-best eight against Kentucky. He took a step back in the final third of the season as he began to struggle with pass coverage, but had another eight tackles in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

Impact

Holloman has been playing in the secondary since his arrival and will continue to do so, but was listed as the backup at spur behind Antonio Allen out of the spring. With the size to play linebacker and the speed to play defensive back, it seems a natural move, but the defensive sets the Gamecocks have used since the spur was introduced have only had one spur on the field at a time. Allen played so well in the final half of last year that he has earned the spot, but Holloman has too much experience and talent to stay off the field. Ellis Johnson has mentioned that the Gamecocks may play two spurs in a 3-4 alignment, especially against a passing team like opening opponent East Carolina, but who knows if that will be a permanent move? What Holloman has to do is be the best he can as a pass defender, since it's unlikely he'll take a linebacker spot away from Shaq Wilson, Rodney Paulk, Quin Smith, Damario Jeffery or Reggie Bowens. He does have three career interceptions and has always shown up around the ball after a play, so there is something with which to work. If he proves himself invaluable to the defense, he'll be on the field in some way. If not, he'll have to wait his turn.

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