COLUMBIA — It was a competition that T.J. Brunson lost, but not for lack of trying. He lost because the guy he was going against always won.
Skai Moore led South Carolina in tackles last year because Skai Moore led the Gamecocks in tackles all four years he played. Brunson took a shot at the title, posting an initial lead when he had a stunning 16 tackles in the season-opener, but Moore edged him at the end, 93 tackles to Brunson’s 88.
The two never approached it as anything other than a friendly competition. Moore made that clear after the Outback Bowl, when he cheerfully said the Gamecocks’ linebacking corps was in great hands despite Moore playing his last game.
“He’s got it all,” Moore said of Brunson. “He’s got everything he needs.”
The first recruit Will Muschamp visited when he was hired at USC (as in, Muschamp left his hiring press conference to head across town and talk to Brunson) will be the most important piece of the Gamecocks’ defense this year, coordinating the on-the-field alignments and being counted on to keep bringing down ball-carriers. Brunson may not get his hands on as many interceptions as Moore did, but he did have 4.5 tackles for loss and three recovered fumbles last season.
Now he’ll be the man in the middle of the field, ready to change directions or instructions when he spies the opponent switching to the audible he viewed in film study the day before. Brunson is the perfect linebacker to have, and the Gamecocks are viewing it as an embarrassment of riches, losing one of the most productive players they ever had but boasting a returning all-conference-caliber performer that’s already been on the field for two years.
Brunson’s not interested in replacing Moore. Trying to be the star after the star hardly ever bodes well.
Of course, that changes when the next guy was already a star.
South Carolina’s Top 10 Most Important Players
10. CB Rashad Fenton
3. LB T.J. Brunson
2. Coming Saturday