COLUMBIA — They had plans for him. Big plans.
That those plans were scuttled by circumstances no one saw coming doesn’t change the fact that South Carolina had and still has a plan for Dakereon Joyner.
“Our offensive staff is going through those things and evaluating our talent and evaluating our personnel as we continue to fit the pieces and what we’re going to look like,” USC coach Will Muschamp said. “And he certainly is going to be a huge part of it, I can assure you of that.”
Muschamp said the same thing throughout last year, and the uber-athletic Joyner only had a handful of snaps. But reality didn’t reflect preparation.
Joyner competed for the backup quarterback spot through preseason. By Aug. 21, nine days before the Gamecocks began the season, the staff had decided on Ryan Hilinski as the top backup for starter Jake Bentley.
Joyner was naturally disappointed. The state's Mr. Football Award winner coming out of Fort Dorchester High School had been recruited as a quarterback. Losing the QB competition stung, and he could read the writing on the wall, but as he has consistently done throughout his athletic life, he swallowed hard and said he was OK with it.
He would not transfer. He would stay at USC and do whatever he could for the team. The coaches, giddy at having that kind of athleticism on display at quarterback and/or other spots, praised Joyner’s loyalty and began installing his personal Plan B.
Joyner would take some QB reps but spend most of his time practicing at wide receiver, where he had never played but could quickly learn the spot. His running ability out of receiver sets gave Muschamp and his offensive coaches delightful visions of what could be once he got into free space in the middle of the field.
Everything was fine until the season-opening game. The Gamecocks were upset by North Carolina 24-20 and lost Bentley for the season.
A Lisfranc fracture (foot) ended Bentley’s season. Hilinski was suddenly promoted to starter.
Joyner's role suddenly changed.
“I never stopped working at quarterback,” Joyner said two days after the UNC game. “I’m still doing both (QB and receiver), I never stopped taking reps at quarterback. I’m just going to be the best teammate possible.”
No question he was willing to do whatever it took. No question he worked as hard as he could work.
Yet from a logistics standpoint, USC had to rep Joyner much more at quarterback as he was now the backup to Hilinski. And that did pay off when Hilinski was playing hurt against Missouri, Georgia and really the last half of the season.
But it cost him and the Gamecocks most of their chances to get him on the field in another role. They just couldn’t risk him getting hurt, too, not when their only other choices at quarterback were Jay Urich, another backup moved to receiver who barely saw the field, and redshirt freshman walk-on Corbett Glick.
The numbers were middling. Joyner rushed 29 times for 107 yards, completed 16 of 28 passes for 168 yards and caught six passes for 46 yards in eight games.
The numbers also don’t tell the story. Joyner played well in the Gamecocks’ shocking upset of Georgia, taking over for Hilinski in the third quarter and managing the offense as best he could. He also fought a hamstring injury the last half of the year and was concussed on a brutal (and non-whistled) hit against Texas A&M that kept him out of the Clemson game.
As expected, Bentley transferred for his final year of eligibility, leaving Hilinski as the presumptive starter. Yet Hilinski is coming off (minor) knee surgery, and while the Gamecocks have imported former Colorado State QB Collin Hill as backup, he’s coming off the third torn ACL of his career.
Joyner could play a major part in spring work, as a quarterback or receiver/scatback hybrid. New offensive coordinator Mike Bobo echoed Muschamp and has already lauded Joyner’s loyalty to USC and willingness to do anything for the team.
“I got a chance to meet with DK. I’m really impressed with him,” Bobo said. “He’s a guy that wants to do whatever he can to help this football team.”
The plans for Joyner have been refined and redrawn. The Gamecocks are planning to utilize them, and him, this time.