It’s unclear whether J.T. Ibe was talking metaphorically or not, but the South Carolina defensive back made it known at the Gamecocks’ Media Day on Aug. 1 what his top priority is.

“On my goal board, staying healthy is the number one thing,” he said. “If you can’t stay healthy, you can’t play. So I tell [the young guys], ‘You’ve got to take care of your body.’ You have to. I know that from previous experience being hurt.

“It sucks to be hurt and have to come back from injury.”

Ibe knows all too well.

The 5-10, 191-pounder made four starts last season before suffering a season-ending knee injury. On Aug. 12 in South Carolina’s first scrimmage this training camp, Ibe strained a pectoral muscle, the same injury he suffered while playing at Rice, causing him to miss practice time.

“That’s something I preach to the younger guys. Football is not going to last forever,” Ibe said. “Take advantage of every day, every week, every month you get to play this beautiful game and get to be in this beautiful facility and do what you love.”

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Fortunately for the Texas native, he was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA and will play in South Carolina’s season opener against North Carolina on Saturday at 3:30 p.m.

“Getting a sixth year, I think it’s a blessing,” Ibe said. “I get to play football again, a sport that I love.” 

Ibe was asked several times this month if it was tough missing time last season.

“This has been my life,” he answered once.

Another time, he elaborated further.

“I like it here and I feel like we are really building something special and I want to be a part of it,” he said. “I was blessed with six years to play college football and I’m trying to win a championship. I want to be great.”

A sixth-year senior, Ibe is expected to start at safety for the Gamecocks and could be a significant contributor after making 130 tackles in 36 games at Rice, where he was a three-year starter. If healthy, he should bring some veteran leadership and stability to a young secondary.

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Before training camp, Muschamp said Ibe has made great strides.

“J.T. is one of the most structured, routine guys that there is on our team,” Gamecock quarterback Jake Bentley said.

“The biggest thing I take from J.T. is how he takes care of his body off the field, always getting rehab, always getting treatment, having the right diet,” Gamecock sophomore Jaycee Horn said. “That’s what really impresses me most about J.T. and I look up to him in those ways.”

This week, Ibe has turned much of his focus from his injuries to preparing for the Tar Heels.

“Mack Brown’s a legendary coach,” said Ibe, who has known the Tar Heels’ coach and South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp since the pair coached together at Texas. “He’s going to have his guys prepared.”

Ibe said the Gamecocks have watched tape of Ole Miss, where current UNC offensive coordinator Phil Longo coached last season.

“I think first game of the season, you never really know what’s going to happen, so it’s going to be tough,” Ibe said.

But Ibe is excited to play in a game for the first time since Sept. 29 of last year.

“We’re ready,” Ibe said. “We’re ready to play.”

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