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August 11, 2013

Holloman steals the show

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While Jadeveon Clowney was out with a bruised shoulder during seventh-ranked South Carolina's first preseason scrimmage in Williams-Brice Stadium, an unlikely candidate emerged to steal the show on defense. T.J. Holloman, a second-string linebacker without so much as a down of real-game playing experience, forced the only turnover of the scrimmage. The redshirt freshman from Stone Mountain, Ga., picked off USC starting quarterback Connor Shaw on a seam route and returned it an estimated 35 yards.

"It was a coverage for me to drop into the middle of the field," said Holloman. "I read Connor. He was on the seam route, but I can't remember where I picked it. I was dying out there. It was kind of hot, so I was looking for somebody to tackle me from behind."

After practice, Holloman admitted he was happy to cross that accomplishment off his bucket list.

"That was awesome," Holloman said with a grin. "Me and Connor, we have a good relationship off the field, but that was pretty cool to say I intercepted our starting quarterback."

A former three-star prospect out of St. Pius X High School, Holloman has worked with the second team in preseason practice, but is still competing with sophomore Kaiwan Lewis for the starting job at Mike linebacker. He's added 10 pounds since the spring, filling out his solid 6-foot-2, 238-pound frame while also working to improve the mental side of his game.

"After the spring, I just got a hold of the playbook better," said Holloman, who earned the Harold White GPA Award for the defense over the offseason. "I got the calls better, and it's just been a good experience since my redshirt year."

Holloman attributes a great deal of his improvement to second-year linebackers coach Kirk Botkin and Shaq Wilson, South Carolina's leading tackler a season ago who returned to the team as a graduate assistant this summer. Holloman said Botkin has been intense in practice recently, but knows how to break things down so his players can understand.

"[Botkin] was coming at you (at Friday's practice)," Holloman said. "He was yelling at you if you did something wrong, but loving you up if you did something right. He's a great coach."

Holloman said Wilson has been there every step of the way this preseason, providing five years of valuable experience to one of the most inexperienced linebacking corps in the entire country.

"When we're doing individual drills, [Wilson] tells us little keys to look for, and when we're watching o-linemen, he'll pick up little things to make sure we notice when we're out there playing," Holloman said.

Among Holloman's goals for the rest of fall camp are becoming more consistent with his calls, keeping his pad-level low when taking on linemen, getting to the ballcarrier faster, and of course winning the starting job at Mike linebacker. Citing coach Botkin's "don't compare, just compete" mantra, Holloman is looking forward to challenging for playing time this fall.

"Kaiwan is doing a great job, and I'm doing a great job," Holloman said. "We're both making the right calls. It's just going to come up to gameday. Whoever gets out there, I'm sure is going to do a great job."

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