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September 6, 2013

Roland turning a new leaf

Lined up against South Carolina sophomore wideout Shaq Roland for the third play of Thursday night's season opener, junior North Carolina cornerback Tim Scott gave himself a generous 10-yard cushion of grass to work with.

It didn't help.

Mere seconds after the ball was snapped, South Carolina's former "Mr. Football" had blown past Scott, stretched his post route deep downfield and hauled in the rainbow pass from Connor Shaw for the game's first score. 6-0, Carolina. Piece of cake. Or was it?

Roland was supposed to put on that kind of show from day one. He was an Under Armour All-American, a Parade All-American, the Offensive MVP of the Shrine Bowl, a top-10 wide receiver and a four-star prospect coming out of Lexington High School.

He amassed 24 touchdowns and nearly 2,000 yards of total offense his senior year with the Wildcats. So how did that kind of talent translate to a measly five catches for 80 yards and a touchdown his freshman season? And how did Roland turn around to come within five yards of besting those season totals in one game against North Carolina?

For Roland, it's all about his approach, something he says has changed dramatically since his first year in garnet and black.

"Overall I'm just more focused, treating it more like a job," said Roland after practice Thursday night. "Last year I was just relying on my athletic ability alone, but now I'm just learning more about the game."

Surprise! Like many supremely-talented high school athletes, Roland's transition to the college game wasn't a piece of cake. He found he couldn't just run past people anymore.

His routes needed to be tighter, his motions crisper, his hands softer and his grasp of the playbook stronger. The raw talent was always there, but Roland needed a full season at the next level to learn how to use it.

"This is a totally different season for me, I feel like," Roland said. "Last season, it was more learning. Now I'm just ready to play. Whatever play he calls, I'll be able to run the route. I have confidence."

Roland, who plays primarily at the 'X' position where he shares the starting job with junior Damiere Byrd, got a huge confidence boost from Thursday night's game when coach Spurrier trusted him to deliver Shaw's pass to the end zone on South Carolina's third play.

"I knew he was going to call that play eventually, but I really wasn't expecting it to be the third play of the game to be honest," Roland said. "But I was ready for it, and it was an exciting play for me. It was pretty nice."

With the chapter closing on his transition from high school to college, Roland is turning a new leaf and shifting his focus to the Gamecocks' trip to Athens, Ga., Saturday.

"It should be very exciting for me," Roland said. "I went down there once and visited. It's a nice place and should be a great atmosphere.

"All the Georgia players (on South Carolina) are pumped up, going back home," he added. "Everybody here is pumped up. It's a big game for us, I think we'll be ready."

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