COLUMBIA -- South Carolina freshman wide receiver Damiere Byrd trotted to the line of scrimmage, surveyed the defense and couldn't help but smile.
He was lined up across from Stephon Gilmore during a recent USC football practice. Gilmore, the Gamecocks' All-SEC cornerback, had just crept up three steps. If he reached out, Byrd could easily shake hands with Gilmore. And if Byrd was reading the defense correctly, Gilmore would be in man-to-man coverage with no help from a safety on the play.
Byrd could count on one hand the number of times he saw man-coverage during his senior season at Timber Creek High School in Erial, N.J. Byrd was a sprint champion in the state of New Jersey, and there were few players who could match his 100-meter time of 10.42 seconds.
When the ball was snapped, Byrd put his head down in an attempt to blow past Gilmore. But as Byrd made his way down the field, he realized Gilmore was with him stride for stride. Byrd couldn't get open and the ball was thrown to the opposite side of the formation.
"In high school, I would have blown right past him," Byrd said. "There was no way they could keep up with me. I realized pretty quickly that everyone is fast in college, especially in the SEC."
Byrd, like many talented freshmen players, had relied almost solely on his athleticism to dominate in high school. In took only a practice or two before Byrd realized it was going to take a lot more than speed to get on the field this season for the Gamecocks.
It was going to take sound technique and an attention to detail -- things that didn't matter as much in high school.
"I needed more than just my speed," Byrd said. "I knew I was going to have to play smarter, run better routes and make quicker cuts. I wasn't going to be able to line up and just blow right by guys."
Even the nation's top recruit, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, has learned his lesson. He can't dominate offensive tackles with speed and strength alone.
"It's like night and day from high school," said Clowney, a defensive end from South Pointe High School. "Technique is so important at this level. I've got to use my hands more, I never had to do that in high school. I've got to come up with more moves and use my leverage.
"I'm getting there, but I'm not there yet. It was tough at first. At first, I was like, 'this is nothing like high school.' But I'm starting to get better."
It's a lesson USC defensive line coach Brad Lawing has stressed since day one with his freshman players. So far, Lawing has been pleased with Clowney's improvement since his first practice.
"He's learned how to use his hands," Lawing said. "Most kids coming out of high school, that's the one thing they don't know how to do. He's gotten better and better with it."
The best part is that Clowney is never satisfied.
"He wants to learn, and I've been very impressed by that," Lawing said.
Freshman running back Shon Carson, who has made a real push for playing time this season, would either run over or around defenders at Lake City High.
He has figured out that setting up blocks, making crisper cuts and reading defenses will be the key for him during his college career.
"The coaches are always stressing technique, technique, technique," Carson said. "This isn't high school. The things you did in high school are not going to work in college, especially in this league. I'm studying film more than I did when I was in high school, and I'm paying attention to what everyone is saying around me. You have to if you want to get on the field."