As football season enters the final stretch, Brandon McIlwain remains in the mix at quarterback as Jake Bentley’s chief backup.
When January arrives, though, McIlwain’s attention could swing to baseball.
The sophomore spoke with coach Chad Holbrook on Thursday and reiterated his commitment to baseball when the spring semester begins in about two months.
Until then, with the Gamecocks needing just one win to earn bowl eligibility, McIlwain’s will remain preoccupied with football.
When spring practice begins in March, McIlwain might have to perform a delicate balancing act, particularly if he earns a starting job in baseball.
“I spoke with Brandon today and he is preparing to be us,” Holbrook said Thursday during his annual fall practice wrapup press conference. “He is excited about playing baseball here. I’ve had some conversation with Coach Muschamp as well. He is committed to allowing Brandon to be a big part of our baseball program, as well.”
Individual workouts begin when classes resume in January. Preseason camp (full team workouts) behind in late January, three weeks before the season-opening series against UNC-Greensboro at Founders Park.
“How much he plays, he needs to get over here in January when football is over and we’ll try to catch him up from the time he missed in the fall and see if he can get in the conversation to get in there and play,” Holbrook said. “He certainly has the talent and ability to play and be a big factor on our team.”
McIlwain will have a lot of catching up to do. Because of football (under NCAA rules, he is required to be on football scholarship), he missed the entire fall practice, including the six weekends of open scrimmages capped by the Garnet and Black World Series.
“It’s difficult to play this game if you’re not involved with it each and every day in some capacity,” Holbrook said. “Especially when it comes to swinging the bat. It’s a hard enough task to hit a baseball when you’re here every day. But when you’re not getting work because of time constraints or academic work or all the demands pulling at Brandon, it’s very difficult for him to stay at a high level. He has the talent to do it. We have to catch him up first and then we’ll see if he is in the conversation to play.”
If McIlwain battles his way into that “conversation,” then circumstances will change for him, Holbrook said. A year ago, McIlwain was spending his final semester in high school before rolling at USC in January. Now he has been on campus for 10 months.
“If he is the conversation to play, then things change for Brandon,” Holbrook said. “Last year, he was on the outside looking in, so he should have focused on football. We’ll go into it with the same type of agreement. If he is involved in baseball and playing, we’ll certainly look at getting him over here a lot more. If he is a reserve then I certainly don’t want to take him away from Coach Muschamp or from football.”
After swinging the bat well in preseason camp, McIlwain played sparingly last season, collecting one hit and one RBI with four strikeouts in 10 at-bats (.100).
“He’s smiling and I know he is excited about contributing to our team in the spring.”