COLUMBIA - Steve Spurrier has never been one to overlook preseason award watch lists and all-conference selections, the highlights of what he calls "talking season."
He pays attention to the hype, or lack thereof, as a season nears its beginning. Of course, the Head Ball Coach also isn't one to ignore any perceived slights or any sign of disrespect. So Spurrier noticed when South Carolina only had one defender selected to the media's three preseason all-conference teams earlier this month at SEC Media Days.
"We've got to do a better job of promoting these guys," Spurrier said.
Senior defensive back Brison Williams was named to the preseason All-SEC third team, but Spurrier wasn't satisfied. Even with a young and inexperienced group, he thought there should be more.
Spurrier focused on one player specifically: linebacker Skai Moore.
Moore had a breakout freshman season last fall, leading the Gamecocks with 56 tackles and four interceptions. As Spurrier noted, it's rare for a freshman player to lead an SEC defense in both tackles and interceptions. For his effort, Moore was named to the All-SEC freshman team.
But when the preseason lists were released this offseason, Moore was passed.
Spurrier was surprised, and he blamed Moore's exclusion primarily on lack of promotion from the Gamecocks athletics department. Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward had another theory.
Ward called it a lack of appetite.
"Skai don't like to eat," Ward said. "He's an athlete. He sees himself as an athlete. He runs 4.4 (seconds in the 40-yard dash), but he can still run 4.4 and put on the necessary weight that he needs."
There's a good reason why Spurrier thought of Moore. If South Carolina has one defensive player poised for a huge 2014 season, it's likely him. Even as he learned the Gamecocks' defensive playbook on the fly last fall, Moore showed a special combination of athleticism and big-play ability.
Ward said he expects Moore to be even better this fall, but improvement won't come automatically. Even with the success of last season, Ward said there was plenty of work for Moore to do.
Most importantly, Ward said, Moore needs to get stronger.
Moore is listed at 213 pounds on South Carolina's roster, five pounds lighter than quarterback Dylan Thompson. In the SEC, a league that prides itself on a certain brand of "big-boy football," more bulk is required. The three linebackers selected to the preseason All-SEC first team - Alabama's Trey DePriest, Georgia's Ramik Wilson and Tennessee's A.J. Johnson - weigh more than 230 pounds. DePriest tops the scales at 245.
Moore is clearly one of the more athletic linebackers in the SEC, especially in pass coverage. Ward believes the sophomore could weigh 220 pounds, if not more, without the extra muscle slowing down his speed. He said Moore gained "a little weight" this summer, but there's still room to grow.
If he bulks up, Ward believes Moore could be a special player.
"Skai is one of the potential players that can leave here in three years, and I talked to him about that," Ward said. "He's one of the few guys I know that's on defense that can have a great season this year, have another great season next year, and can go out (for the NFL draft) as a junior. But he's going to have to get bigger if he's gonna do that."
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