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August 12, 2013

Legree: "We have not lost a step"

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Bolstering South Carolina's secondary this season will be two top-notch starting cornerbacks who appear to have little in common aside from their effectiveness on the field. One of them is Victor Hampton, a rambunctious fourth-year junior boundary corner who has a knack for making big-time plays and can often be seen trading unpleasantries with opposing wide receivers on the field.

The other is Jimmy Legree, a soft-spoken fifth-senior from Beaufort, who prefers to keep his head down, shut down his side of the field, and lead by example while Hampton has all the fun. Though that often leads outsiders to think Hampton is the more talented of the pair, Legree doesn't concern himself with taking credit for his own play.

"As far as credit goes, I don't care," said Legree, one of only four scholarship seniors on the team. "As long as I get my job done and get it done, then I'm fine with that. I know Vic (Hampton) is going to do his job. As long as we've got that trust with each other, we'll be alright."

"Vic is more of the aggressive, more dominant-type one," Legree added, mentioning that the two corner's differences in play style compliment each other. "I'm more of the cover corner, and that goes hand-in-hand, really."

Legree moved to cornerback from free safety in the spring of 2012, playing in all thirteen games and starting eight of them. After racking up 44 tackles and tying for the team lead with six pass break ups and three interceptions in his first season as a cornerback, Legree is slated to be the starter at field corner alongside Hampton again this season. He said Monday night that he's much better now than he was at this time last season.

"I would say I know the game better than I ever did," Legree said. "I know the playbook. I worked on all the small things I needed to work on such as footwork, opening my hips soon - not too early, not too late - and coming out of my break faster. I felt like I got better in a lot of areas."

Defensive backs coach Grady Brown recently called sophomore cornerback Ahmad Christian a "pleasant surprise," this offseason, saying that the dual-sport athlete is pushing Legree and Hampton for one of the starting spots. Legree also handed down praise for Christian Monday night, saying the sophomore has gotten much quicker and become a better overall player since last season. Still, he's not worried about how the competition is shaping up with just 16 days remaining until the season opener against North Carolina.

"I feel comfortable either way it goes," Legree said. "If Ahmad is starting, then hey, he's a good enough player to pick up whatever slack we had. If I'm starting, that's also good. I have no problem with anything really."

"I think it helps easing the coaches mind as well knowing that whoever they start, they can trust them and know that they'll make the play they are supposed to make," the senior added.

One of the biggest question marks leading into this season is how the secondary will to move on without D.J. Swearinger, a three-year starter and one of the best defensive playmakers to put on a Gamecock uniform. Legree, who played with Swearinger for four seasons before his departure to the NFL, says the team will be just fine without him.

"We have not lost a step," Legree said. "Vic has filled in [Swearinger's] role pretty well. Brison (Williams) too. I'm not the real vocal type but we've got other players stepping up trying to be leaders and that's what it's going to take."

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