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November 5, 2013

Golightly, defense regaining swagger



Spur linebacker Sharrod Golightly and his defensive teammates entered the season with the unenviable task of matching their predecessors' standards of success. A redshirt junior, Golightly had just edged out redshirt freshman Jordan Diggs at a position manned in recent years by DeVonte Holloman and Antonio Allen, who both moved on to the NFL after graduation. And the Gamecock defense was expected to improve upon the legacy of the 2011 and 2012 units, which both ranked in the SEC's top four in scoring and total defense.

Golightly and South Carolina's defense initially struggled to fill those shoes, plagued by ineptitude, inexperience and inconsistency for much of the first half of the 2013 campaign. The Gamecocks were bulldozed by Georgia in week two and allowed 25 or more points in each of their next three games. South Carolina's coaches questioned whether their players were in the right positions, and fans wondered whether the coaches were in the right positions.

But after all its struggles, the defense -- and Golightly in particular -- has put together a string of solid outings. South Carolina's defense performed admirably at Arkansas and Tennessee, held Missouri's high-octane offense to 24 points over four quarters and two overtime periods of football, and forced five turnovers against Mississippi State last week. Golightly said after Tuesday's practice that the Gamecocks have finally turned the corner and regained their swagger.

"We went through our trials and tribulations, but we went through the fire and we made it through," said Golightly, who registered four tackles -- two of them for losses -- in the 34-16 win over Mississippi State last Saturday. "So every week we just try to keep getting better, and we're seeing the production on the field and on the film too. I think that swagger is showing on the practice field and it goes over to the games."

South Carolina has now climbed back into the SEC's top six in every major defensive stat category, and second-year linebackers coach Kirk Botkin says the defense is finally beginning to buy into the system as its players are learning to buy into each other on the field.

As the defense has grown, so has Golightly. The Decatur, Ga., native who was widely criticized for his play in the first half of the season said he had his best game Saturday, when he blew up several plays by himself and recovered a fumble.

Golightly says he doesn't feel pressure from following the acts of DeVonte Holloman and Antonio Allen at the Spur position, but is rather benefiting from what he learned from them over his first three years at South Carolina.

"Going into this year I was prepared knowing those two guys were mentors before me," Golightly said. "They always told me: 'Be ready for your time. Have patience and take advantage of your opportunities.' And that's what I'm trying to do."

Struggling through the slow start may not have been enjoyable, but Golightly said the defense was prepared to learn and improve through its mistakes.

"We recruited players to play, and we work hard every week and we worked hard all summer," Golightly said. "We knew it was going to be a process, you've just got to get better everyday. And every time, during the season, every week, you just keep getting better. We'll finish strong."

Golightly said the unit's goals for the upcoming week will be to stay healthy and prepare for Florida's variety of offensive packages, but its goals for the remainder of the season are to play with passion and improve each game.

This bye week is big for us," Golightly said. "We get a chance to just sit around and look at film and be prepared for all the different formations. I think it's a big game for us, and we've got to get our legs right.

"We're going to work hard every game. Every week. Every week of practice, we're going to try to finish strong and try to make history."

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