COLUMBIA -- South Carolina defensive line coach Brad Lawing thinks Aldrick Fordham is one of the smartest players on the Gamecocks' football team.
When you're an undersized defensive tackle, smart is -- good.
"Aldrick understands the game very well and he's really intelligent," Lawing said. "He understands leverage. He understands technique and how to use it against the guy he's lined up across from. He's very sound fundamentally, but he's got to be with his size."
Or lack thereof.
After a big meal, the former Timberland High School star tops out at just more than 270 pounds. Fordham figures on any given Saturday that he'll be giving up an average of 30 or 40 pounds to his opponents.
"Most of the offensive guards and centers in the SEC are over 300 pounds, so they've got a big size advantage on me," Fordham said. "When you're going up against a guy 40 pounds heavier, your technique better be perfect. If I get too high or my pad level is up, then I'm going to get pushed around. That's what I've been working on since I got here. Learning the game, learning the technique that's going to make me a better player."
Lawing isn't too concerned about Fordham's size.
"Yeah, (Fordham) is undersized a little bit, but I've played with undersized defensive tackles in the past and that's OK," Lawing said. "If you can play the game, you can
play it. If Aldrick didn't have a good foundation, a good understanding of the fundamentals, he'd be an average player, but he's not an average player."
Fordham came to South Carolina in the fall of 2009 as a lanky, 6-3, 220-pound linebacker/defensive end.
"I don't think they knew what to do with me," Fordham said. "I played outside linebacker in high school, even a game at safety, and they put me at defensive end. I played some defensive end in high school, too, so that wasn't that difficult of a transition. I kind of expected them to move me to defensive end, so it wasn't much of a surprise."
Fordham played sparingly as a true freshman, appearing in just six games. A year ago, he was used mostly on special teams, but recorded 10 tackles in 14 games.
With Devin Taylor and Melvin Ingram already entrenched as starters at defensive end and with the eventual influx of super freshman Jadeveon Clowney, Fordham quickly realized that getting on the field wouldn't be easy this fall.
Fordham decided a permanent move to defensive tackle would be in his best interest.
"Defensive end, defensive tackle are about the same," Fordham said. "The bodies are a little bit bigger inside, but it's the same philosophy."
Fordham learned pretty quickly that technique and fundamentals were going to be the difference in playing and watching from the sidelines.
"I try to stay lower than the guy blocking me," Fordham said. "I want to be quick off the ball. I want to hit him before he hits me. You've got to use your hands. That's something that coach Lawing stresses all the time. He wants you to always move your feet."
Fordham has spent most of the preseason camp as the starter at defensive tackle, along with Travian Robertson. But he's getting competition from Byron Jerideau and Kelcy Quarles.
"Aldrick has had a really solid camp," said Gamecocks defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson. "He's done everything we've asked of him. He's such a coachable kid and he's worked so hard since the first day he got here. He's going to help us this year."
Keeping his weight up, especially during the recent hot summer practices, is a daily struggle for Fordham.
"I eat anything and everything I can put my hands on," Fordham said with a laugh. "I've put on 45 pounds since high school. If guys don't finish what they're eating, I usually finish for them."