COLUMBIA - Grady Brown has been here before. He knows what it's like to have his patience tested. The grind is familiar.
Ten years coaching in the Southwestern Athletic Conference taught Brown how to scramble. Brown, a former Alabama A&M defensive back, said he "learned how to become a coach" in the SWAC. The league became his roots. He's never forgotten the lessons learned.
"In that conference, essentially all you know is getting guys in August and getting them ready to play for Labor Day," Brown said. "Because typically you don't have the funds to bring a freshman out of high school and pay for him to go to summer school. So, honestly, I've always been in this position. Everything I've experienced prior to this year has put me in position to be the best coach I can be now."
This situation, as Brown called it, is enough to keep coaches awake at night. There is no such thing as an easy coaching job in college football, but Brown's challenge is at another level. South Carolina's third-year secondary coach must get three freshman cornerbacks ready to play SEC football before the end of this month.
Between Al Harris Jr., Chris Lammons and Wesley Green, there's a good chance one - at least - will start when the Gamecocks host Texas A&M on Aug. 28.
"It's not a panic mode," Brown said. "We're prepared to get those guys ready. They'll play for necessity, because we need those guys to play. But they'll also play because they're projected to be really good players. We'll have enough time to get them ready to play."
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said it hasn't taken the freshmen long to adjust. They're already rotating first-team reps in practice, even before players put on their pads for the first time this preseason.
There will be several adjustments to make before - and even after - the season begins. Brown has already coached the freshmen on their technique, positioning, footwork, pre-snaps alignments. The list of tweaks is seemingly endless.
For now, the most important thing is to learn South Carolina's defense - both the philosophies and terminology.
"I went from knowing everything to knowing absolutely nothing," Green said. "So I just have to learn the playbook. So far, I think the playbook has been the biggest difference right now."
Green said it helps having two other freshmen tackling the same learning curve. "We encourage each other," he said.
If they struggle with something during practice, the freshmen stay late to make sure they get it right. When they return to the dorm, they watch film.
Green and Lammons formed a bond before they even arrived at South Carolina. Both needed to raise their test scores before being admitted to school. It was a stressful process, one that didn't end until last week. Green said it was overwhelming. Lammons said the suspense was the hardest part.
"It was a hard wait and kind of stressful because everybody asks you, 'When are you leaving? When are you leaving?'" Lammons said. "You just tell them you gotta wait until your scores come back, and things like that. When I did get in, I was very excited."
Their wait is over. Now the real work begins. Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin's offensive system - a pass-happy approach - will challenge South Carolina's secondary immediately. For Green, Lammons and Harris, the next three-plus weeks will be like cramming for a test.
Brown has faith the three freshmen will pass their challenge. He's seen it happen before, and he recognizes the same ability now.
"They are exactly who we thought they were," Brown said. "We tried to go out and recruit guys that would embrace an opportunity to play. We tried to go out and recruit guys that we thought would end up being really good players, guys that would do things the right way, that would come in and compete at a really high level. As a staff, we did a good job this year of recruiting what we needed in the secondary."
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