Tailback Mike Davis, tight end Jerell Adams try to earn success as true freshmen for South Carolina
COLUMBIA — When he pulled the black T-shirt over his head, Mike Davis probably didn’t think the big, bold-faced words on the front perfectly summarize the experience of a true freshman college football player: SWAG DON’T COME CHEAP.
Grammatical misstep aside, those words will ring true this season for Davis and Jerell Adams, true freshmen who could play important roles for South Carolina. Davis, a running back, and Adams, a tight end, will be on the travel roster for Thursday’s season opener at Vanderbilt.
Adams probably will play more than Davis, because Davis is a third-stringer. But Davis’ progress is still critical because the Gamecocks are thinner in the backfield now, with Shon Carson out indefinitely due to a wrist injury that required surgery. Another tailback, Brandon Wilds, has been dealing with a sprained ankle.
That both true freshmen put themselves in a position to contribute — though other circumstances certainly helped Davis — should come as no surprise. Davis was the highest-rated member of USC’s recruiting class of 2012, No. 63 overall by Rivals.com. Adams was the nation’s No. 17 tight end when he originally signed with USC in 2011, before he attended prep school to academically qualify for college.
Davis is behind Marcus Lattimore and Kenny Miles on the depth chart, so his carries Thursday could be limited, at best. But he still feels excited about making the trip to Nashville, Tenn., which wasn’t a certainty when preseason practices began. When he learned two weeks ago that he was on the travel roster, he immediately called his mother in Lithonia, Ga., and told her she should consider making plans to attend the game.
Moments later, Davis said he received a call from his brother, former Clemson tailback James Davis, “telling me he’s proud of me, telling me he was third string going into the season his freshman year, too.”
On Thursday, Davis will follow the same pregame routine as he has since middle school. While most players listen to music to energize them, Davis prefers the stand-up comedy routines of Kevin Hart and Mike Epps.
“I’m kind of like the goofy type,” Davis said. “I have to laugh. You can’t just go into anything without having fun. Football is something you’ve got to have fun (with). That’s something that helps me relax.”
He knows that being relaxed and being knowledgeable and quick enough with his reactions to block hulking linebackers are two entirely different things. Blocking remains one of Davis’ shortcomings, which is common for young tailbacks. He is more comfortable with his chances of bursting out of the backfield, carrying the ball.
“I feel if I can break long runs in practice against our defense, I should be able to do it against other teams because we have one of the best defenses in the SEC,” he said.
Davis arrived in Columbia this summer and participated in seven-on-seven drills with his teammates, including Adams, who neither looks (6-6, 224 pounds) nor plays like a typical true freshman. Davis refers to him as “a beast,” and said that during drills, “a lot of times Jerell stood out.”
Adams is behind Justice Cunningham at one tight end spot, while Rory Anderson is at the other spot. Adams looked impressive during preseason scrimmages and drew consistent praise from coach Steve Spurrier.
“I did better than I thought I was going to do,” Adams said. “I thought I was going to look kind of messy or whatever, but I looked pretty good out there. I’m learning the plays a whole lot better than I thought I would. I thought I was going to run around like a chicken who lost his head or something.”
Adams learned his playbook by spending extra time away from the tight ends’ meeting room, studying with the quarterbacks and tight ends.
But now that classes have begun and game week is here, life will get more stressful for true freshmen like Davis and Adams, as their older teammates know.
“The toughest part is time management,” said fifth-year senior fullback Qua Gilchrist.
For now, they remain borderline giddy about Thursday. Davis said he “really can’t wait,” and “when the time comes, I’ll be ready.” Adams said USC’s deep tight end spot is “going to play a big role” in the offense, which depends to a large degree on his progress, of course.
Regardless of whether they find the success they seek as true freshmen, they will inevitably learn that it is not easily earned.
Spurrier said after Sunday’s practice that reserve safety Sheldon Royster, a redshirt freshman, has decided to transfer … Spurrier said Wilds would be out “probably another two to three weeks, at least” with his ankle sprain, and that Lattimore and Miles are “set to play most of the game, or all the game” on Thursday … Spurrier said a redshirt year is an option for Wilds, “if none of the (other) running backs got hurt.” Wilds played as a true freshman last season.