COLUMBIA — So there’s Shilo Sanders, son of the exuberant Deion “Prime Time” Sanders, like his father no stranger to hype and used to getting his way. He’s a top prospect, mentioned by some as maybe one day being as good as his dad, and, as such, he wants to channel Dad.
Deion valued jersey number 21 so much he once bought a brand-new BMW for the Dallas Cowboys' Alundis Brice, who was wearing No. 21 before Deion signed his Dallas contract. Shilo wore the same number in high school, his prep all-star games and in at least one recruiting picture at South Carolina, anticipating he’d wear No. 21 as a Gamecock.
The only problem was No. 21 was already taken by Jamyest Williams. Sanders wasn’t buying any cars to request the number, but he let it be known he’d like to have it.
“I think he might have asked,” Williams, a junior, said as he straightened his No. 21 jersey at USC's Media Day last week, “but veteran rules, you know?”
It’s not fair to say the shiniest bauble of Will Muschamp’s first USC recruiting class hasn’t lived up to his billing. Williams hasn’t been able to finish each of his first two seasons due to a nagging shoulder injury, now twice surgically repaired, and last season he was moved to safety from his natural nickel spot because the Gamecocks needed someone there with game experience.
His stats are actually pretty good, considering. Williams has 70 tackles, five for loss, three interceptions and a recovered fumble in just 19 games. He’s started 10 games, including four of eight last year before the shoulder gave out again.
Yet there is that lingering question: Will the kid who picked the plain USC cap over the shiny silver one stamped with Georgia’s “G” logo ever be the dominant player that everyone expected? Williams was so good in high school that Ohio State's Urban Meyer recruited him as a running back.
He turned that down along with multiple other offers to play defensive back for Muschamp. Williams has been good, but time’s running out for him to be great.
“I expect Jam to be a leader. I think we all do as a staff,” USC assistant coach Kyle Krantz said. “He’s been in the room the longest. We expect him to show the way, be the standard, this is how we operate, this is how we meet, this is how we practice, this is how we play.”
Williams was solid as a nickel in 2017, but the Gamecocks had to move him in 2018. They had one experienced safety on the roster (Steven Montac) and Williams had played more snaps than any other candidate (although not at safety), so a reluctant Muschamp moved Williams to safety.
Then J.T. Ibe recovered from the hip injury that cost him most of camp and took the starting job, while Williams moved back to nickel. But freshman Jaycee Horn was playing very well at nickel and wasn’t going to cede his spot.
Williams replaced Ibe after four games and started the next four before the shoulder ended his season. Coming into this year, Horn was listed on the preseason depth chart as a starting corner and backup nickel while Williams was a backup safety, again behind Ibe.
Of course, that was a preseason depth chart and doesn't mean much now. Especially after Muschamp claimed that a few players who missed spring practice would have to earn their places, which would be much more believable if three of them — Rico Dowdle, Javon Kinlaw and T.J. Brunson — weren’t among those few.
Williams knows that but also knows he has a lot to prove. He can’t be tentative despite a twice-injured shoulder, and has to lead even if he’s not a starter once the season arrives.
“He’s out there moving fast. I wish y’all could see it, you’d see what I’m talking about,” Horn said. “Jam’s moving real good.”
Williams is aiming to move back on the track he was projected on when he committed. To show everybody what No. 21 can do.
Valentine enters portal
Redshirt freshman running back Lavonte Valentine has entered the NCAA transfer portal, USC confirmed.
Valentine didn’t play last year while recovering from a knee injury he suffered in high school. A two-sport athlete, Valentine was able to compete with USC’s track and field team in the spring.
With the addition of Clemson transfer running back Tavien Feaster, the Gamecocks’ running back room got more crowded. With Feaster, Rico Dowdle, Mon Denson, A.J. Turner, redshirt freshman Deshaun Fenwick and true freshman Kevin Harris, reps were going to be hard to come by for Valentine.
Davis could be done
Junior defensive tackle Devontae Davis has a mid-foot sprain and is probably headed for surgery. If he does have the operation, it would probably be a season-ender.