After an all-star caliber season as a sophomore, D.J. Wonnum entered 2018 with high hopes and plenty of hype.
But Wonnum didn’t even make it out of the season opener before going down with an ankle injury. The junior defensive end/Buck missed five games, costing the defense its best pass rusher.
“It was very frustrating, but everything happens for a reason. I think it set me up to have a great season this year,” Wonnum said.
No one is more motivated entering 2019 than Wonnum, a team captain and three-time SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week.
“I’m extremely hungry. I’ve got to make up for lost time,” he said. “I feel like this year is going to be a big year for me and I’m ready to go.”
Wonnum leads a talented defensive line that finally has the depth Will Muschamp has been looking for up front. He is one of five seniors the group will lean on heavily, along with Javon Kinlaw, Kobe Smith, Keir Thomas and Daniel Fennell, Wonnum’s backup at the Buck position.
Wonnum is confident the group will be able to help the Gamecocks stop the run and generate a better pass rush.
“We have the experience, we have the size, we have the talent, we have speed, we have strength,” Wonnum said. “We have all that. It’s just putting it all together. We are going to shock a lot of people this year.”
The key is Wonnum, who led South Carolina with 13 tackles for loss and six sacks as a sophomore. Three of his 11 tackles last year were for losses, including two sacks against Tennessee. He has already drawn high praise from new defensive line coach John Scott Jr., who coached in the NFL.
“He’s a special guy,” Scott said. “He can set the edge for us, he can rush the passer. I was with the Jets for two years and when I look at his body type, I look at his athleticism, he was better than some of the guys we had up there. I think he has a lot of potential. He could be special for us.”
More importantly, he is a key leader on the defense and the whole team.
“He's very instinctive, he’s very smart,” Muschamp said. “All the young players are going to walk in and see how you do things the right way. We missed that when he only played five games for us last year. It hurt us.”
“He’s always been a reliable guy with how he comes to prepare for practice and everything. He’s locked in every day,” said senior linebacker and defensive captain T.J. Brunson. “He’s a big leader for us, so it’s huge to have him back.”