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August 5, 2013

Lewis wants to lead, likes to hit

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After an offseason where they lost the entire two-deep to graduation and the draft, the Gamecocks are clearly weakest at linebacker heading into the 2013 season. South Carolina moves forward with a 12-man group that includes four freshmen and no starting experience, but sophomore linebacker Kaiwan Lewis is confident he can lead the young group - and the rest of the defense - this fall.

Lewis, a Mike linebacker expected to step into the leadership role left vacant by Shaq Wilson, said during South Carolina's media day Sunday that he is ready to embrace his new role - despite having never recorded a start.

"As the Mike linebacker I do feel that I have to fill that void and be a leader and a voice for the entire defense," Lewis said. "I just want to live up to the trust of my teammates and my coaches with my play as well."

As a true freshman last season, Lewis appeared in 11 games on the special teams unit - failing to appear in only the Vanderbilt and Kentucky games. He would rack up just three tackles (two solo stops) on the year, observing patiently from the sidelines as Wilson and Bowens directed the defense, knowing that his time would come when they moved on after the season.

Lewis soaked in as much knowledge as he could from Wilson during his freshman campaign, and he said Sunday that making the transition from benchwarmer to field general this offseason has been easier since Shaq Wilson decided to stay on with the team as a graduate assistant.

"Even after the season ended and all of those guys were getting ready for the NFL, I was still texting Shaq and Reggie during spring ball with any questions I had," Lewis said. "Having [Shaq] here day to day, it's a lot easier because I can talk to him and get into the film room with him if I need to. I can text him at 12 o'clock at night if I have a question about a playcall."

Lewis, a former all-state defensive end and linebacker from Mays Landing, N.J., said he worked diligently over the offseason to prepare himself for the role. His teammates and coaches had nothing but praise for the sophomore Sunday.

"Kaiwan is young, but he's up for the challenge," said sophomore cornerback Ahmad Christian. "If you're ready to play, you're ready to play. Kaiwan can ball."

His teammates named him (by virtue of a straw poll Sunday) the team's hardest hitter apart from Clowney. Lewis didn't blink when he learned he had been selected.

"I just try to put my everything into the ballcarrier," Lewis said. "If you've got the ball, I'm going to hit you and try to get the ball out. If not, you're still going to feel it."

Second-year linebackers coach Kirk Botkin called Lewis one of his quickest learners this offseason. He said the 6-0, 221-pounder has adapted rapidly to every bit of new material he's thrown at him in practices and meetings.

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