With preseason football practice starting on Aug. 3, Gamecock Central presents a new series that takes a look at three players per day who have either played in at least one game or appear on the post-spring two-deep depth chart.
NICK JONES, redshirt freshman receiver
Before South Carolina: Jones was rated by Rivals.com as a three-star prospect out of Byrnes High School. Jones was also offered by Auburn, Georgia Southern, Michigan and Northern Illinois.
The measurables: 5-foot-8, 189 pounds
Jones has had to live with the tag of "Marcus Lattimore's best friend" for a while and probably will always have to live with it, but wants to and is very capable of making his own name. Quick and slippery, Jones redshirted his first season as slot receiver Ace Sanders became the "other guy" in the Gamecocks' offense, but with Tori Gurley out of the picture now, perhaps Jones can work his way into a sturdy role. Coach Steve Spurrier has said that Jones reminds him of several of the receivers he used to have at Florida, the guys that could run right at a defender, plant his foot and spin away to leave the guy clutching air and staring futilely at the receding jersey. He has the speed and is now fully recovered from a knee injury suffered during his senior year of high school, so he just needs a chance. If the Gamecocks don't want to go tall-tall, with Alshon Jeffery and Jason Barnes/D.L. Moore, maybe Jones gets his number called.
MARCUS LATTIMORE, sophomore running back
Before South Carolina: Lattimore was rated by Rivals.com as a five-star prospect out of Byrnes High School. He was also offered by Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida State, Georgia, Oregon and Penn State.
The measurables: 6-foot, 227 pounds
2010: With everyone trying their best not to place too much hype or pressure on Lattimore, he proved he was more than capable of living up to/handling it as he burst onto the collegiate scene. Two touchdowns in the season-opener became a breakout game against Georgia, where Lattimore shredded the Bulldogs' defense for 182 yards on 37 carries, scoring another two TDs as the Gamecocks won. With Spurrier knowing full well he had a prize stallion to ride, the Gamecocks became a run-first team, and Lattimore was the stud. He ended with 1,197 yards on 249 carries (4.8 average), the third-best single season in USC history (behind only the final two seasons of Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers). Lattimore scored 17 touchdowns on the ground and also caught two through the air, adding 412 yards on pass routes. Lattimore never tired or got worn out during the game, although he missed the entire Vanderbilt game while recovering from a sprained ankle picked up against Kentucky (where he missed the second half) and was out for all but a handful of plays in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. The awards rolled in, Lattimore being named a consensus National Freshman of the Year among several others, with many already penciling him on the top-five Heisman ballot for this year.
The player the Gamecocks have been waiting on, Lattimore seems to not be content with an outstanding freshman year. He's been in the weight room since the year ended, saying he wasn't satisfied with a mere SEC East title, and has served as a mentor and leader to the rest of the team (even upperclassmen) as he strives to get the Gamecocks where he thinks they're capable of being. Equipped with a few extra pounds (he estimated his weight gain at 8) and a better-fitting helmet (unlike the high-riding model that was fine for most of the year, but left his chin open for a vicious game-ending knockout against Florida State), Lattimore comes into another season with hype on his shoulders. This time, it's even more. He has to avoid the "sophomore slump," and knows that if the Gamecocks falter, it could become a question of if he was the one that let the team down. Such is the price that comes with being the most dependable player on a team. There's no question Lattimore works extremely hard at his craft -- Spurrier and others marvel at how Lattimore can see three tackles down the field, hardly ever goes down on first contact and never gets hit from the side, the back always turning to face his stoppers -- and it paid off in 2010. But there is the future beckoning -- Lattimore has the chance to leave USC as better than Rogers, the gold standard of Gamecock football players. He just has to live up to it, and having already answered the questions of if he could do it as a freshmen, there seems to be no doubt that he will keep it going.
JIMMY LEGREE, redshirt sophomore free safety
Before South Carolina: Legree was rated by Rivals.com as a three-star prospect out of Beaufort High School. He was considered an athlete out of high school.
The measurables: 5-foot-11, 180 pounds
2010: Trying to break into a crowded secondary, Legree got into 11 games as a backup cornerback and recorded four tackles, all against non-conference opponents (Southern Miss and Troy). The position was simply too crowded, and Legree being behind Stephon Gilmore and Chris Culliver (for most of the year) knocked down his chances.
With Culliver gone to the NFL, and the secondary undergoing some changes after allowing seven 300-yard passing games in 2010, Legree emerged from the spring as the starting free safety. He has the speed and excellent leaping ability (think back to the SEC Championship Game for just how important being able to jump is) to play in the secondary and the coaching staff is hoping he keeps his ball-honing skills sharp. A quiet player, Legree will be given the chance to hold onto the spot, as he is really the most experienced one on the roster. Seemingly, it's his spot to lose.
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