To help college football fans get through the dog days of summer before conference media days launch the preseason festivities in mid-July, The Post and Courier is counting down the 12 most important South Carolina Gamecocks and 12 most important Clemson Tigers for 2013. The daily series continues today with No. 11 for each team and concludes with the No. 1 players on July 7.
Position: Wide receiver
Hometown: Sicklerville, N.J.
Last year: 14 catches, 366 yards, 3 touchdowns
SOUTH CAROLINA’s No. 11
DAMIERE BYRD, JUNIOR, WIDE RECEIVER
To this point in his career, Byrd has made his most news for his involvement in the Gamecocks’ NCAA violations that resulted in self-imposed sanctions in 2011 and an appearance before the NCAA Committee on Infractions in 2012.
Byrd was suspended for the first four games of his freshman season, in 2011, because he received impermissible extra benefits. In 2011, he had just one catch. Last season, he had 14 catches for 366 yards (a team-best 26.1 per catch) and three touchdowns.
But he didn’t have a catch in the final five games before catching two passes for 63 yards, including a 56-yard touchdown, in the Outback Bowl.
So Byrd has shown flashes. And he certainly moves like a flash. A sprinter on USC’s track and field team, he is the Gamecocks’ fastest football player, which helps him get separation from defensive backs and overcome his size disadvantage (5-9, 166 pounds).
Is this the year he puts it all together and becomes a more consistent, every-down receiver? USC returns Bruce Ellington, last year’s co-No. 1 receiver, but needs receivers like Byrd, Shamier Jeffery, Nick Jones and Shaq Roland to complement Ellington.
Byrd came to USC a highly regarded recruit, the No. 19-ranked receiver nationally in his class, according to Rivals. The time has come for Byrd to make good on his potential.
CLEMSON’S No. 11
STEPHONE ANTHONY, JUNIOR, LINEBACKER
This could be considered a make-or-break year for junior Stephone Anthony, the former blue-chip commit. His hot start included 38 tackles in his first four games of 2012 – which ranked seventh in the ACC and tops among non-juniors or seniors, at that time – followed by 2.5 tackles for a loss at Boston College. But Anthony lost his starting middle linebacker job to Spencer Shuey at the season’s midpoint. His numbers dwindled down the stretch, seeing the field for just 20 snaps in the final three games (none against South Carolina) and making just one tackle in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Shuey is listed as the starting will linebacker, making way for Anthony to redeem himself in the middle. He’s bulked up to 240 pounds, and he has the athleticism to handle that weight, but performance almost always trumps potential – especially when that potential has teased and tantalized for multiple years.
One of defensive coordinator Brent Venables’ former Oklahoma players, Kellen Jones, is now eligible after sitting out last year and could push Anthony for playing time.
Previously: USC No. 12 T.J. Gurley and Clemson No. 12 Grady Jarrett
COMING FRIDAY: No. 10