COLUMBIA — Terror Twins? Shutdown Corners? The Lonely Islands?
South Carolina cornerbacks Jaycee Horn and Israel Mukuamu don’t call themselves anything. Dopey nicknames aren’t worth their time.
All they need to be known as is what they are already — starters and leaders of a young but talented Gamecock secondary.
“Nah, we ain’t got no nicknames,” said Horn, an SEC All-Freshman selection last season. “We’re close but not that close.”
“We hold each other accountable,” Mukuamu said.
They arrived at USC with great potential, Horn the son of longtime NFL receiver Joe Horn and Mukuamu a claimed 6-foot-5 in cleats. They were going to play.
But they had to play a lot due to injuries, and then had to play more because they were the best options. Horn started 10 of 11 games, mostly playing nickel but also rotating at corner and safety, while Mukuamu started two of his 13 games at corner and safety.
Will Muschamp didn’t want to put so much on a pair of true freshmen but there were no other options. Besides, he saw something that rewarded his trust.
“I checked curfew last year during camp and there’s two guys not in their bed, and it’s Israel and Jaycee. Well, they’re back over here watching film at night, at 10:30,” Muschamp said. “They’re supposed to be in their bed at 10. That’s a good thing.”
The players were given a pat on the back before being told they needed to get their hindparts back to main campus post-haste, but their spirit and ambition hasn’t dissipated. The Gamecocks’ two-deep depth chart only has three juniors or seniors among the 10 secondary spots, and those belong to the oft-injured J.T. Ibe and Jamyest Williams, plus A.J. Turner, who switched from running back late last season.
The rest are all freshmen or sophomores, but Horn and Mukuamu played so much last year that the class indicator doesn’t matter. They’re each slated to start at corner and have already left an impression in camp.
“The energy and juice that Jaycee and Israel bring … just the attitude they bring each and every day. Just nasty,” quarterback Jake Bentley said. “They ran a different coverage and I went to ask Jaycee what it was, he’s, ‘Man, don’t talk to me!’ That fierceness about it. Out there, he sees us as the enemy.”
Bentley said it’s been a boon for himself and the other QBs to tighten their focus, since throwing an interception to one of those two guaranteed a full afternoon of hearing about it. “It’s all in fun,” Horn said. “When he scores on us, he brings it back.”
Horn has croaked his way through interviews all camp, a hoarse voice blamed on sinuses. Mukuamu, who played at Berkeley High before moving to Louisiana, is the quieter of the two but has rivaled his classmate in letting himself be heard on the field.
“When we’re making plays and when we’re flying around, it feeds to the linebackers and the D-linemen,” Mukuamu said. “As long as we have the energy on defense, it’s going to affect everybody else.”
They’re each back at their natural spots, something they both wanted because it means more opportunity to get their hands on the ball. Horn broke up eight passes last year but couldn’t snag an interception; Mukuamu got one of the team’s six when he picked off Chattanooga’s Nick Tiano.
It was a simple decision for Muschamp, who puts freshmen into a three-step process to see if they can get on the field. First, they have to be talented enough to play. Second, there has to be the right opportunity. Finally, if they’re mature enough to play in front of 80,000 people as teenagers, then they’re playing. With Horn and Mukuamu, there was never a second’s hesitation.
“Both of those guys approach practice and preparation the way you're supposed to,” Muschamp said. “Those two guys are set at corner. We’re better with them playing corner.”
The two will be on the edges Saturday at Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium, where they hope to rudely welcome North Carolina freshman quarterback Sam Howell to college ball. They don’t have to have any snazzy nicknames that tumble from an announcer’s mouth or are borrowed from a children’s TV show.
They’ll settle for the opponent’s dismayed expression as they shut down another drive.
Dakereon Joyner will play
Muschamp confirmed that North Charleston’s Dakereon Joyner will play Saturday, although he predictably didn’t want to say where. He lauded Joyner’s attitude after losing the competition for backup quarterback.
“Absolutely he’s going to play, and he’s been great,” Muschamp said.
Hinson to transfer
The strange story of Evan Hinson has another twist. He’s left USC and intends to transfer to play basketball.
Hinson played basketball for Frank Martin off and on for three seasons before he left in midseason last year to fully concentrate on football. He was expected to be a key backup at tight end but had surgery during preseason camp after an irregular heartbeat was detected.
Yet he met with Muschamp last week and said he wanted to go back to basketball. There was no immediate word on what school Hinson might pick.
Defensive tackle Keir Thomas will not play Saturday due to an infection in his ankle. He will probably be out next week as well.
Kobe Smith was listed as a co-starter with Thomas on the latest depth chart.
No word on Muse, Sorrells
Transfer tight end Nick Muse has not heard from the NCAA about his eligibility waiver. If he’s not eligible, he can’t travel, although since the Gamecocks are in Charlotte, there’s the possibility of him getting a clearance after the team leaves and still being able to get there for the game.
Muse would be a key backup, if not a starter, in a two-tight end set. But the Gamecocks are at the NCAA’s mercy after Muse transferred from William & Mary.
Freshman Jaquaze Sorrells has not received clearance to enroll. After missing preseason camp, it’s doubtful Sorrells would do anything but redshirt this season if he gets cleared.