COLUMBIA -- The student at the University of South Carolina's weightlifting facility did a double-take. Had Gamecocks defensive tackle Byron Jerideau really just asked him for a spot as Jerideau tried to bench press 450 pounds?
Yes, Jerideau had. He was working out in the regular student gym rather than the football team's posh facility while serving suspension from the team this past offseason, and he was intent on not falling behind in the competition to gain a starting job heading into his senior season.
So, he loaded up the weight bar, approached some random student and asked for a spot. It was more of a formality than anything. Jerideau was fully aware that this kid probably stood no chance of pulling 450 pounds off his chest. But Jerideau, who is 6-1 and 316 pounds, is strong enough that bench-pressing 450 pounds is a routine part of his workout.
Jerideau got the weight up no problem, was reinstated to the team before spring practices and found himself No. 1 on the depth chart when the practices began last Tuesday. The Gamecocks are now just over one week into spring workouts with four of their 15 sessions complete (counting scrimmages and the spring game).
For many players returning to starting jobs, these practices are surely a routine necessity
that pales in comparison to the excitement of a game. For Jerideau, they are a second chance, and one he is grateful to have.
"I'm thankful to be out here," he said. "I'm taking advantage of every opportunity I get."
He was suspended after a Jan. 12 arrest on an alcohol-related disorderly conduct charge.
While he awaited reinstatement, he tried not to let his poor decision-making that night derail his goal of contributing more a senior this fall.
"I worked hard every day in the offseason," he said. "The weeks when I was suspended, I still was working out every day."
Last season, USC started senior Travian Robertson at one defensive tackle spot. Freshman Kelcy Quarles and junior Aldrick Fordham, who is from Jamestown, shared time at the other spot.
Quarles started the final six games after Fordham started the previous six.
You need to take only one look at Jerideau -- who cuts a massive, round physique -- to understand the girth it takes to play defensive tackle in the Southeastern Conference. Quarles has it. He is 6-4 and 286 pounds. Fordham, while no shrimp at 6-4, is listed at 269 pounds -- a bit too light, in the eyes of USC defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward, for a defensive tackle at this level.
So, Fordham was moved to the No. 2 defensive end spot behind Jadeveon Clowney, and Jerideau was bumped up the depth chart at tackle, next to Quarles.
"We expect him to hopefully win the position," Ward said.
Jerideau, who is from Green Pond, has not started at USC since transferring from a junior college before the 2010 season.
He played in all 13 games last season, made seven tackles and spent some time practicing with the offensive line, before returning to defense.
Jerideau showed the strength he could provide in the offseason, when he set a program record by squatting 600 pounds five times. His max on the lift is 670.
While he shed only about five pounds in the offseason, he said his rigorous offseason workouts, including his time in the student gym, resulted in him feeling better conditioned this spring than he did last season -- and he could feel the difference on the first day of practice.
"We were doing drills, and people are breathing heavy," Jerideau said. "And I'm just like, 'I'm feeling good.' "