Brandon Shell's collegiate career got off to a rocky start.
First, he had shoulder surgery over the summer and couldn't take part in all the preseason drills. Then once he did practice, he had a heat-related incident and had to be taken to the hospital.
But all of that is behind the former Goose Creek High School star. Over the last 10 days, the 6-6, 320-pound tackle has started to grab the attention of South Carolina's coaching staff.
Heading into the Gamecocks' season opener against East Carolina on Saturday at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, Shell is listed as the backup at right tackle behind senior Rokevious Watkins.
"Brandon has done very well," head coach Steve Spurrier said. "He's about ready to go. He's got a lot to learn. He played in a running offense down at Goose Creek, so the pass protection is a lot to learn for him, but he's coming along nicely. Right now, he's the backup right tackle, and hopefully we can get him in the game."
Shell isn't sure how much he'll play against the Pirates.
"I hope I get some reps. I think I've gotten a lot better since camp started," Shell said. "My footwork is getting better, my pass protection is getting better. It's not where I want it to be, but it's getting better."
Offensive line coach Shawn Elliott has been pleased with Shell's progress.
"He's coming along nicely."
East Carolina's offense averaged 437 yards and 36.8 points a game in 2010.
Keeping the Pirates offense off the field will be a key on Saturday. The best way to do that is with an effective running game.
Sophomore running back Marcus Lattimore, who has seen little action during the preseason, said the running game will be ready against the Pirates.
"I feel really good," Lattimore said. "Everybody is looking good. The offensive line is looking good. Everybody knows the offense well and knows their assignments pretty well, so we're right where we need to be."
Statistically speaking, the Pirates had the worst defense in the FBS, coming in at No. 120. The Pirates gave up more than 226 yards on the ground per game a year ago.
But that's last year, USC running backs coach Jay Graham said.
"It's still early, the first game," Graham said. "You don't know exactly what to expect. They've made some changes on their defense and stuff, but I think our guys are ready. We talk about breaking tackles, ball security, those things are important. Knowing what you're supposed to be doing on every single play. It's a faster tempo. We go fast in practice, but it's nothing compared to the game tempo. East Carolina has a good team. Last year was last year. This is a different year. We're just trying to get better every week."
Good seats still available
There are plenty of tickets still available for the Gamecocks' opener in Charlotte.
The crowd is expected to be around 55,000. Bank of America's seating capacity is 73,778.
Tickets can be purchased through TicketMaster.com for $60 each.
Cornerback Akeem Auguste did not practice Wednesday. Auguste has missed most of the preseason with an ankle injury. The Hollywood, Fla., native re-injured his ankle during Monday night's practice.
For more on South Carolina football, go to postandcourier.com/gamecocks.