The Damiere Byrd File

DAMIERE BYRD

Position: Wide receiver

Year: Junior

Ht: 5-9. Wt: 165

2012 Stats: 14 receptions, 366 yards

Wide receiver Damiere Byrd is the fastest player on the South Carolina football team.

Byrd has held that distinction from the moment he stepped on the Columbia campus in 2011. When he’s not putting on the pads for the football team, Byrd is a one of the top sprinters on the USC track team with a personal best time of 6.66-seconds in the indoor 60-meter dash. He anchored USC’s 400-meter relay team that finished fourth in the SEC championships. Byrd said he’s run a 4.26 in the 40-yard dash.

But each season, usually at the beginning of preseason camp, there’s always a player or two, usually cocky freshmen, who want to challenge Byrd for the title of fastest player.

And each time, the only thing they see is the back of Byrd’s jersey as he sprints down the field.

“I get someone every year that wants to race,” Byrd said.

“They like to talk a lot of trash before we get out there and I try not to say anything. I just let my running do the talking.”

And that speaks volumes.

Byrd is hoping to shed his persona as a “speed guy” and become known for more than just his ability to run past opponents in the secondary. He wants to be more of a well-rounded player, a receiver who runs disciplined routes, a solid blocker and tough guy who catches the ball in traffic.

“I think when people talk about me, they think of my speed and that’s OK,” said the 5-9, 165-pound junior from Sicklerville, N.J. “But I want to be more than just a speed guy. I want to be more of a complete receiver. I want to be known as a guy that can take a hit and still hang onto the football. That’s my goal.”

Byrd has just 15 receptions over his first two seasons with the Gamecocks. A year ago, he caught 14 passes for 366 yards for a gaudy 26.1 yards per reception average. More than a quarter of his receptions were for more than 40 yards, including a 94-yard touchdown strike, the fourth longest play in USC history. Byrd caught a 56-yard TD pass on the third play from scrimmage in the Outback Bowl against Michigan.

“He’s a guy that can make a lot of big plays for us,” said wide receiver coach Steve Spurrier Jr. “Damiere just has to become more consistent — catching the ball, as a route runner, better blocker. I think he’s got a chance to have a big year for us.”

With Ace Sanders in the NFL, Byrd is battling sophomore Shaq Roland for a starting spot. A hamstring injury slowed his progress early in camp, but Byrd said he’s back to full speed now.

“I think I’m having a good camp, I think I’ve opened a few eyes,” he said. “I know this is a big season for me. I feel like I’ve got to step up and become a bigger part of the offense. I want to have a bigger role and make bigger plays in the biggest situations.”

Zandi making moves

After last Saturday’s lackluster scrimmage performance, assistant coach Shawn Elliott could be considering making a move at left tackle.

That move comes in the form of redshirt freshman Mason Zandi.

Zandi has been backing up both the right and left tackle spots.

Right tackle Brandon Shell, a former Goose Creek star, appears to have nailed down his starting job, but Corey Robinson is getting some heat from Zandi.

In recent practices, Zandi, a 6-9, 295-pounder from Irmo, has been running plays with the starting offense.

“I feel like every day I’ve been in camp I’m competing for a starting job,” Zandi said.

In general, Elliott has been pleased with the offensive line’s work as a whole during camp.

But after Saturday’s scrimmage, USC head coach Steve Spurrier called the offensive line “soft.”

Elliott couldn’t disagree.

“We were pitiful on Saturday,” Elliott said. “Preseason camp is normally a roller-coaster ride. Some days we’re really good and some days we’re really bad. We’ve had some peaks and valleys. This year is no different. It’s been a good camp. We didn’t play well on Saturday. I wasn’t discouraged by the scrimmage. We came out and got better the next practice.”