Gamecocks cornerback Jimmy Legree leading by example on, off field

South Carolina cornerback Jimmy Legree (15) is congratulated after his interception at the goal line in the Gamecocks' 35-25 victory over Vanderbilt on Sept. 14. (AP Photo/Stephen Morton)

Jimmy Legree isn’t the “vocal type.” He’s not expected to stand in the locker room before his teammates and deliver an inspiring, heart-thumping speech. He’s not the guy to call others out when issues need to be corrected.

But, as the only senior in South Carolina’s secondary, the starting Gamecocks cornerback has a leadership role on his team’s defense.

“I just lead by performing,” Legree said. “Showing the younger guys what to do and what not to do on and off the field.”

On the field, Legree’s play has been exemplary through the season’s opening month.

He is fourth on the team with 16 tackles. Nobody on the Gamecocks’ defense has more than his four tackles for loss, which are tied for third-most in the SEC

Against Vanderbilt, his fourth-quarter, goal-line interception helped prevent USC from slipping into a losing streak.

“He’s just more focused this year,” fellow cornerback Victor Hampton said. “More focused, and being more of a vocal leader for us, but he’s just making plays when they need to be made. He’s just not messing up mentally.”

The interception was nice. His tackle numbers — especially behind the line of scrimmage — mean something more.

Legree didn’t struggle as a “cover corner’ last season, leading USC with three interceptions. He entered the offseason needing to work on other parts of his game.

Not every cornerback prides himself on tackling. Legree, trying to become a complete player, said he focused on his fundamentals and technique. So far, it’s paid off.

“Tackling was kind of a problem for me in the past,” Legree said. “Being that I’m tied for third in tackles for loss, it means I guess my game is improving. I’ve got to keep building on that.”

As impressive as he’s been in USC’s secondary, Legree expects to do more off the field.

When his career ends, Legree wants to start a program to help kids from “bad backgrounds, ghetto homes.” The details still need to be worked out, but the program’s inspiration is personal.

Legree was one of four children in his family. His father died when he was 12. His mother tried to provide the best he could, but times were hard.

“We never really had much,” Legree said. “… Just watching her struggle with the kids was not anything I liked. I just want to help every kid out there have a fair opportunity.”

Legree isn’t ready to focus on life after football yet. He still has at least nine — probably 10 — games to play this season. The senior wants to have a successful final year.

USC coach Steve Spurrier expects big things from one of his defensive leaders.

“Jimmy has a lot of ability,” Spurrier said. “Sometimes he doesn’t show it every play, but he’s a really good cover corner and is a good tackler, and just getting him focused and going every play. But he’s had a good year. I guess I just remember one play that he sort of got out of position this year.”