COLUMBIA — You wouldn’t think it to look at him, this 6-foot-5 beanpole so gangly a giraffe looks at him funny. But he’s the wild card of South Carolina’s football team.
Part of it’s surprise and part of it’s necessity. Jay Urich is still listed as a quarterback but will mostly contribute as a wide receiver this year, coach and player agreeing that it made zero sense for Urich to keep standing beside Will Muschamp on the sidelines instead of running between them.
Opponents will know of him, because they can watch tape of the spring game where Urich was named MVP after hauling in nine passes for 130 yards. Yet they won’t, really, because he hasn’t done it in a real game.
Then Muschamp and offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon will turn him loose — a kid who piled up over 1,000 rushing yards in each of his last two high school seasons and is still known as one of the three fastest players on the Gamecocks’ roster.
The Gamecocks begin the season as a continuation of last year in one respect —- another defensive back is injured.
If Urich only has that one game where he races past a confused secondary for a long gain before they wise up, well, he’ll have that one.
“We talked about it and we had a conversation and that’s what’s best for the team,” Urich said. “It’s better than sitting on the sidelines.”
Urich’s a terrific athlete, throwing for over 2,000 yards as well as his rushing totals in both of his two years as Wren High’s quarterback. He succeeded Clemson-turned-Missouri quarterback Kelly Bryant, another dual-threat player.
“Anything he does is not going to be a surprise for me," Bryant said. "Big-body guy that’s very capable of being a great receiver."
Bryant shares that opinion with Muschamp and several others. Odds were that Urich was never going to play QB while stuck behind Jake Bentley, Ryan Hilinski and Dakereon Joyner.
But he could help. Somewhere.
“I didn't think it was very smart to have a guy that's big, smart, really good athlete that runs extremely well that possibly could be standing on the sidelines,” Muschamp said. “He helped us on special teams in the latter part of last season as a guy that, again, athletically, needs to be on the field somewhere, and Jay was all for it.”
It’s taken some adjustment. Urich’s a great runner but wasn’t used to running the same route several times per day (he sprained his ankle a couple of weeks ago but will be fine for preseason camp) and his hands, used to catching nothing harder than a snap, had to get used to catching the ball at all sorts of angles.
Georgia was picked No. 1 in the East Division, Alabama the favorite to win the SEC Championship Game.
At least he knew who to talk to for advice. It’s the same group of guys he’s been throwing to the past two years.
“You have a perspective and you have a friendship with them from the quarterback side of it, but as a receiver now, it’s a whole new in-depth relationship,” he said. “Josh Vann has been great, Bryan (Edwards), Shi (Smith) … they’re all trying to help me figure out the little details of it.”
The surprise element is only good once, but if Urich pulls it off, opponents forever have to respect it. That first shot is what Urich has been working for since last season ended.
“I think it just goes back to the same sort of mindset I’ve had, just help the team,” he said. “Now that’s going to be primarily at receiver and special teams, so I’m going to put my all into it and work hard, and do my craft and try to get back and do some starts and releases and get used to catching the ball.”
A handy time for that would be against North Carolina on Aug. 31.