Gamecock fans are already familiar with highly regarded freshman quarterback Ryan Hilinski and five-star defensive lineman Zacch Pickens.
Hilinski, a four-star quarterback from Orange, Calif., has been impressive since he stepped on campus last spring and won the backup quarterback job in preseason training camp. Pickens, the No. 2-rated defensive lineman in the country and Muschamp’s first five-star signee at South Carolina, has always been expected to play right away and has lived up to those expectations.
But several other freshmen showed up on South Carolina’s two- and three-deep depth chart released earlier this week and are also expected to play key roles.
Seven freshmen on offense could see action, with redshirt freshman Hank Manos slated to start at center. Redshirt freshman Jovaughn Gwyn is listed as the co-starter at right guard and could also see extensive playing time on the offensive line, while true freshmen Jakai Moore (left tackle) and Vincent Murphy (center) are listed as backups. Head coach Will Muschamp says Moore and Murphy are both “guys that we feel like really made some progress in camp.”
Freshman KeShawn Toney is listed as the backup at tight end now that Kiel Pollard as been lost for the season and Evan Hinson decided to transfer. Wide receiver Xavier Legette has also drawn rave reviews in training camp and is expected to see action.
While Hilinski is unlikely to play unless starter Jake Bentley gets hurts, redshirt freshman Dakereon Joyner, the third-string quarterback, is expected to see action on at either wide receiver or running back.
While Pickens is listed as a backup at defensive tackle and is expected to play a key role, three other freshmen are listed on the depth chart on defense while others may also see action.
Jahmar Brown is listed as the co-starter at the Sam linebacker position. Muschamp said Brown had a “really good camp [and] he’s a guy we’re excited about on defense and on special teams.”
Freshman John Dixon is a backup at corner while Jammie Robinson is listed as the starter at nickel and a backup at safety. Defensive backs Cam Smith and Shilo Sanders could also play, Muschamp said. Defensive end Joe Anderson also has a chance to play as well, especially with senior Kier Thomas out with an injury for the first two weeks of the season.
The Gamecocks used several freshmen last season, with Manos, Dylan Wonnum, Eric Douglas, Ernest Jones, Jaycee Horn and Israel Mukuamu all earned starting spots this year after playing last season. That trend continues this season with several first-year players putting themselves in position to earn playing time.
"I think it's a testament to the evaluation and the recruiting process and it's a testament to these young men coming in and having the maturity,” Muschamp said. “People always ask me how do I need to play as a freshman? Number one, you have to have an opportunity and number two, if you have the ability, the most important ingredient next is the maturity. You have to be mature enough to handle training camp and handle the day-to-day installation and the grind of training camp and that's really what young players struggle with.
“A lot of times, young players hit the wall in practice 12, 13, 14 or 15 because they have a hard time handling all the stuff. Those guys have all handled it pretty well and we'll continue to work through the season on how much they will contribute and a lot of that will be based on how they play in the games."