“It’s an exciting time to be a Gamecock right now,” head coach Will Muschamp announced on Thursday morning at SEC Media Days.
Muschamp enters his second year as South Carolina’s head coach looking to improve upon his 6-7 campaign in 2016. As with almost every other SEC school, expectations are running high for the Gamecocks, and Muschamp is optimistic. “I’m really excited about our future,” he said.
Sophomore quarterback Jake Bentley, junior tight end Hayden Hurst, and junior wide receiver Deebo Samuel all made the trip to Hoover from Columbia.
Bentley, who took over midseason for struggling quarterbacks Perry Orth and Brandon McIlwain, flipped a 2-4 start into a 4-2 finish to the regular season, racking up over a thousand yards through the air. Samuel will return to South Carolina as one of the SEC’s top returning wide receivers after accumulating nearly 800 receiving yards. Finally, Hurst returns as the SEC’s leading tight end with over 600 receiving yards. Offensive firepower will undoubtedly be plentiful in Columbia this season.
Bentley will step into a leadership role in just his second year of college. “I don’t think leadership is something you learn,” he said, “it’s more you’re born to be a leader, whether or not you’re supposed to be a vocal leader.”
Bentley’s situation is similar to Drew Lock’s in that both were thrust into action their freshman season, and high expectations were placed on them for their sophomore year. Bentley isn’t afraid of the expectations, though. “Guys see me work as hard as I can, and I see the same thing out of them.” The quarterback says his experience as a freshman will lead to success. “I’ll just have more experience with environments on the road, and it will be good for me this year.”
Samuel did not say much at SEC Media Days but did say this about his quarterback: “We all trust the coaching process, and I feel that coaches make the best decisions to help the team. When they put Jake in, you have to have trust in your quarterback, and they also trust us.”.
The wide receiver had high praise for Bentley’s leadership skills. “His leadership keeps improving every day. He wants everyone to be the best they could be.” Samuel is aware that the pressure is higher not only for Bentley, but for all of the offense after it ranked just 115th in total offense last year. “I feel like we have to take the pressure off the defense. We have to go out there and score points.”
Hurst, a former professional baseball player who initially walked on with South Carolina, took a more reflective approach to his SECMD experience. “This has all happened to me so fast, leaving baseball and now being in the position that the coaches have allowed me to be in. … I love Columbia. It has absolutely changed my life.”
Muschamp and the Gamecocks will square off against a competitive NC State team in Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte for their first game of the season. They will play Missouri in each team’s SEC opener in Columbia, Mo., on September 9.