COLUMBIA — He blamed himself.
The idea is ridiculous, but if Bryson Allen-Williams said it, then that’s what he believes. The South Carolina linebacker lost his should-have-been senior season to a shoulder injury in 2017, and he said it was his fault.
One of the Gamecocks’ best and most underrated defenders, Allen-Williams didn’t come to USC to suffer like he had, signing to be part of a team that he watched go 11-2 for three straight years, and then experiencing the disappointment of 3-9 and 7-6 seasons.
He began 2017 wanting to go out on top, and he played like it, recording 10 tackles, two sacks, a recovered fumble and an interception in his first three games. Then his shoulder gave out, and while he was fortunate it happened in the third game so he could still take a redshirt and gain a fifth year, he’s kicked himself from the minute it was diagnosed.
That’s what came from thinking, however slightly, about the next step before taking the one in front of him. The NFL is his goal, and Allen-Williams didn’t speak of it much, but he did daydream from time to time about what it was going to be like reporting for his first professional camp.
“I felt like I was thinking too much about the process, too much about the end result, being too selfish and thinking about myself,” he said. “Just last year, seeing what the team did without me, it kind of made me realize, they don’t need me.”
He wasn’t hosting a pity party or speaking out of turn. That’s what he felt, that he was injured and his team went 9-4 without him because he had been caught not concentrating.
The Gamecocks won nine games, but they needed him. They always have.
His voice. His talent. His will. While he declared that middle linebacker T.J. Brunson is the leader of the Gamecocks’ defense, Allen-Williams’ presence in the starting 11 reaches well beyond tackle and sack totals.
“Bryson has taught me a lot, in different moves to use, and speed. We have different styles of rushing, so a lot of times, I try to do what he does,” said D.J. Wonnum, in line to be the next star of the Gamecocks’ defense. “With his speed and his versatility coming back, it’s going to be big for us this year.”
Outside linebackers coach Mike Peterson admitted that Allen-Williams’ injury forced him to play Wonnum a little more than he wanted to last year, although Wonnum wound up having an excellent season. Allen-Williams spent the downtime coaching Wonnum as much as he could, and the two are set to interchange at USC’s “buck” position this year.
USC head coach Will Muschamp bemoaned his team's lack of speed off the edge when Allen-Williams went down last year, and instead of using that as a crutch, Allen-Williams went the other way. He should have been there, he felt, and used that to warn others about tapping the brakes.
“I went down and nobody thought I was going to go down in my last year. The young guys had to step up and play,” Allen-Williams said. “I make sure I tell everybody, the young guys on the field, ‘One play away.’ Anyone can go down at any time. You can be the one starting in Week 5, Week 6.”
His talent and his desire have made the Gamecocks’ defense quicker and more mysterious. The blitz can come from anywhere with Allen-Williams back on the field, and just having him on the field makes USC better.
“Bryson has played a number of positions his whole career here. What I’m trying to do now is find out what he can do really, really well and focus on that,” Peterson said. “He can really rush the passer. He plays with a lot of effort.”
His second senior season is being approached with a sniper’s focus. “I want to be that guy who helps leave a legacy and help my guys win games and help our defense pick it up every week,” Allen-Williams said.
He always has, and no injury or future plan could ever affect it.