COLUMBIA — He played the good big brother and didn’t force little brother to come play with him in college, even though now he can admit that he really wanted little brother to be here. That was made reality in February when four-star offensive lineman Dylan Wonnum picked South Carolina over a slew of other schools, making him a freshman on the 2018 team that features big bro D.J. Wonnum at defensive end.
What’s next? D.J. knows the role each is going to take.
He’s going to continue the star path he began as an unknown, sparsely recruited pledge two years ago while telling Dylan, the hotshot kid everyone wanted, that it’s all there for him to have, too. If D.J. could be rated in the 1,300s nationally as a recruit, still listed today as a tight end by one recruiting service and still become one of the best defensive ends in the SEC, just think what Dylan can do with all his accolades.
“It’s going to be pretty cool, you know. I’m excited to get him down here,” D.J. said. “I feel like he’s got a chance. He needs to step up for us and be able to play if his time is called.”
Although Dylan didn’t enroll early, he plays a position of need. The Gamecocks feel comfortable with their starting five on the offensive line, but only Malik Young has experience as a backup.
A Dylan Wonnum who was picked the 13th best player in Georgia and the No. 115 player in the country can help that. If he comes in and displays the knack for picking up the playbook and the rest of college football like his brother did.
“I want to get better. I want to try and start,” Dylan said on Signing Day. “I like where their offense is headed and I want to be part of that.”
The rise of D.J. — coach Will Muschamp calls him Dennis, his given name — has been the example of how one can never fully trust recruiting rankings and how sometimes a player’s desire is the most important trait about him. D.J. didn’t play defense until his senior year of high school and not many knew who he was.
Then he signed with USC, played in every game and led all of the Gamecocks’ freshmen with 32 tackles. He was named a permanent team captain as a sophomore and played another 13 games with 13 tackles for loss, including six sacks.
His work ethic and desire, and his lead-by-example approach and relentless ferocity to his team and the game bellowed throughout Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturdays. With little brother available despite nearly all other teams in the SEC wanting him, too?
The Gamecocks had to have him. One Wonnum wasn’t nearly enough.
Coaches have restrictions on calling recruits. Family members don’t. “I talked to him a few times but I pretty much told him, ‘Have fun with it. Don’t let it stress you out. I’d love for you to be here and play with me but don’t let any outside sources get in your head,’” D.J. said.
“But I wanted him to come here.”
The decision was made and papers were signed, and D.J. is looking forward to seeing Dylan across from him during preseason camp in August. The two hardly went against each other in high school — D.J. was playing tight end, so they lined up beside each other several times — but D.J. knows what Dylan can do.
“I’ve been talking to him, but he pretty much knows what to expect,” D.J. said. “(Got to) work even harder than what you do at high school.”
Dylan had higher ratings out of high school but D.J. is one of the rocks the Gamecocks are built on. Little brother might have outgrown big brother’s shoes before now but the boots he’s preparing to step into are much larger.