COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said having one of college football's top playmakers in Jadeveon Clowney was never a burden for the Gamecocks last season, no matter how big a distraction he seemed to be at times.
Clowney became the center of college football once he popped the helmet off Michigan tailback Vincent Smith at the 2013 Outback Bowl. He drew national coverage that put the affable defensive end — and the Gamecocks — in the spotlight nearly every day.
"We got through the year and he did an excellent job," Spurrier said.
There won't be same frenzy swirling around South Carolina when the Gamecocks open fall camp Friday night.
In addition to Clowney, the No. 1 pick of the Houston Texans, other high-profile players including quarterback Connor Shaw, defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles, wide receiver Bruce Ellington and cornerback Victor Hampton are off to pro careers.
Clowney was a major part of the Gamecocks putting together three straight 11-2 seasons. It's a pretty impressive run for a program that had only once before reached double-digit wins in 120 seasons of football.
To get there again, South Carolina will have to rely on players without much experience.
On the defensive front, the Gamecocks will look to untested players like Darius English and brothers Gerald Dixon and Gerald Dixon Jr. In the secondary, South Carolina will rely on young cornerbacks like Wesley Green and Chris Lammons to fill in for upperclassmen Hampton and Jimmy Legree at the position.
Linebacker Kiawan Lewis thinks things will play out like last year when the Gamecocks lost five senior linebackers from a year earlier and counted on newcomers like himself and Skai Moore to step up. It was rocky at first, but eventually the youngsters settled down to help the Gamecocks become a top-10 defensive unit nationally.
"We have confidence in those guys up front and know they're going to play well. We'll help them do that," Lewis said.
Spurrier called Shaw the greatest quarterback in school history and it's hard to argue after he led the Gamecocks to the country's current longest home win streak at 18 in a row. But Dylan Thompson, this year's starter, has had his moments of success — he led the Gamecocks to a 27-17 win over Clemson in 2012 subbing for an injured Shaw — and believes prepared for his moment.
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