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August 23, 2013

Smith having ups and downs

Redshirt freshman Kwinton Smith has all the potential to be a star at some point in his career at South Carolina, even if it isn't in the immediate future.

The 6-foot-4, 212-pound string bean of a wide receiver had a number of options coming out of high school. Hauling in 76 catches for 1,373 yards and 25 touchdowns in his final two years at Dillon High School landed him scholarship offers from Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Clemson, Florida, LSU and of course, South Carolina - among others. The Texas Rangers thought highly enough of his baseball talents to select him in the 14th round of the 2012 MLB Draft.

The world was his oyster, and the three-sport athlete chose to play football at South Carolina with the intentions of also walking on to the Gamecock baseball team. But as many high school-turned-college athletes learn in their first couple of years at the next level, potential alone doesn't translate into immediate success.

A promising preseason camp and praise from the coaches in 2012 led only to Smith redshirting his first season, and his attempt to walk on to one of the nation's elite baseball programs proved just as unfruitful. Smith worked out for the Gamecocks in preseason practice at right field and on the mound, but wasn't included on the final roster. That's when the former MLB draft selection came to a realization.

"It kind of made me realize that I have the potential to play football too, and the baseball coaches made me realize that by sending me back over here for spring football," Smith said after practice Thursday afternoon. "I appreciate that, and I think that made me a better (football) player."

After a year on the bench, Smith, who has worked with the second team at the 'B' receiver position in fall camp, is still learning what it takes to make his mark at the college level. Fortunately, the freshman has a few veterans above him on the depth chart who are sharing their experience with him on a daily basis.

"I'm having ups and downs," Smith said of his performance in fall camp. "I look for the [juniors and seniors] every day; they tell me what to improve on and what I'm doing good, and to keep improving."

Among the things he's worked on are route running and capitalizing on his size.

"You can always improve your routes," Smith said. "That's the key for me: being my size, not trying to give up where I'm going, just trying to run every route the same way."

Smith also said he's worked to keep his energy level as high as it is on his best days.

"There are a few days out here where I'm feeling good, and it's giving me an extra energy," Smith said. "Like, just bring this energy every day to practice and see how far I can go with this."

Not among the four receivers (Ellington, Jones, Byrd and Roland) penciled in as starters this fall, Smith doesn't yet know whether he will see significant playing time as a member of receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr.'s six-man rotation. But now in his second year of preseason camp, the wideout shows signs of the mentality he will need to break his way into that group sooner or later.

"All of us are working hard and competing and it's going to come down to the last day," Smith said. "Everybody is giving the same effort. Coming out here everyday, you know you've got to compete. If you want your spot you've got to compete every day and know your assignments."

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