Over the past five years, South Carolina has become known for its ability to squeeze production out of its freshmen. From Stephon Gilmore to Alshon Jeffery and to Jadeveon Clowney, Steve Spurrier has shown remarkable judgement in not just whom he recruits, but whom he decides to put his faith in. With such an impressive group of starters and upperclassmen exiting the locker room, here’s five freshmen Gamecock fans should keep an eye on, even if they don’t play right away.
Connor Mitch (RS) - Quarterback
If I may, a direct quote from Coach Spurrier about the then-likely transfer of Brendan Nosovitch:
“Yeah, I’ll talk to him on the phone. He’s obviously got, uh, people telling him he’s a quarterback, and he’s uh, struggling a little bit throwing the ball, but he’s a heckuva athlete.” Spurrier went on to say “Every young man has the right to make his own decision, and we’ll release him anywhere. He can go to Clemson, Florida, Georgia, if they want him. He can go anywhere he wants to go.”
Nosovitch was recently listed fourth on the depth chart at QB, though Spurrier seemed very high on him as a possible wide receiver or tight end. No matter how this shakes out, there’s virtually no doubt Connor Mitch will be backing up Dylan Thompson this season, with his toughest competition coming from the walk-on gunslinger himself, Perry Orth. Mitch certainly has the look and the talent of a blueprint pro-style quarterback. He put on muscle in the offseason, and is now a sturdy 6-3, 227-pound human cannon.
It’s unlikely there will be as many reps for Mitch during the season as Thompson had backing up the too-fearless-for-his-own-body Connor Shaw, but I seriously doubt Spurrier is going to have him riding pine for every series in every game. Keep an eye on the Furman and South Alabama games if you’re looking for Mitch’s potential coming out party.
Al Harris Jr. - Cornerback
Last year, the biggest concern for South Carolina’s defense was the linebacking corps. Out of the entire defense, that position was the most untested and unproven. Yet in emphatic fashion, Kaiwan Lewis, Skai Moore, TJ Holloman, Sharrod Golightly and Marquis Roberts stepped up as a collective unit, proving they were not going to be the broken link in the defensive chain.
This year, eyes are on the secondary as they try to plug the major holes left by Victor Hampton and Jimmy Legree. Unfortunately for the Gamecocks, there’s not much to plug it up with, at least not from any of the older players. At cornerback is senior Brison Williams, walk-on senior Sidney Rhodes, former running back sophomore Jamari Smith, redshirt sophomore Rico McWilliams, who had one tackle all of last season, and the perpetually injured redshirt freshman Ali Groves.
To add some raw talent to this band of misfits, South Carolina recruited Wesley Green, Chris Lammons, D.J. Smith (who could start out at safety) and Al Harris Jr. Yes, the son of THAT Al Harris. The Al Harris who perpetually annoyed quarterbacks across the NFL with his brash attitude, signature long dreads, and his ball-hawking ways, which led him to two Pro Bowl appearances.
Word out of Gamecocks camp is that Lammons and Harris have been remarkably impressive, enough to possibly get time as starters. Harris has been practicing a little bit with the first team, and with the shallow depth in the secondary, he may end up being a major piece in the team’s future.
David Johnson (RS) - Defensive End
Originally recruited as a linebacker, Johnson was quickly moved to defensive end, now sitting behind redshirt sophomore Darius English on the depth chart. Johnson is a radically different look from English: with English at a mountainous yet surprisingly svelte 6-6, 250, and Johnson at 6-1, 275, it’ll be interesting if Ward tries to have the two men play different styles while on the field.
Johnson is the heaviest of all the defensive ends on the team, but is also the shortest defensive lineman. Originally 245 pounds when recruited, he’s put on some good weight, and it’ll be interesting to see how, or even if he can adjust smoothly. He may not be in the rotation much this year due to the seniority of other linemen, like English, Gerald Dixon, Cedric Cooper, and Mason Harris, but his growth will be worth paying attention to over time.
Terry Googer - Wide Receiver
Googer is part of a tight-knit trio of true freshman receivers that includes Shaq Davidson and Tyshun “Deebo” Samuel, but what makes him stand apart from his compatriots is his size and his skill as a passer and a runner. Googer primarily played quarterback in high school, where he was a four-year starter. After passing for over 1,200 yards and rushing for over the same amount, Googer has the potential to be an offensive weapon beyond the wide receiver spot.
As for his size, his 6-4, 220-pound stature says it all, but here’s a quote from receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. just for good measure: “When he came on his official visit, he walked away from me and I looked his back and said, ‘My goodness, that guy looks like a defensive end.’ He’s bigger than I remember. I’m looking forward to that. When those big guys come out of the huddle, it’s a different game when you see those guys. I’m curious to see what he can do.”
Even if he doesn't see time this year, he’d certainly make a nice, big alternative to the smaller weapons in Pharaoh Cooper, Kane Whitehurst, and Shaq Roland (if Shaq sticks around) next season.
Na’Ty Rodgers (RS) - Guard/Tackle
It’s hard to even bat an eye these days when you see a college football player getting arrested for either underage drinking or disorderly conduct, but it’s not a frequent occurrence at South Carolina. Rodgers figures to play a role on the offensive line this season, and given his size and just how heavily recruited he was last year, there’s no doubt there’s a great amount of talent. Not to mention he isn’t the first kid on the planet to get in a little trouble with drinking underage.
But now it’s time to stop being a kid. It’s time to be a man because in the SEC, you've got to play like a man. If Na’Ty can get his head straight, he will be a force for many a defensive lineman to reckon with.