When South Carolina opens training camp Friday, all eyes will be on the team’s quarterbacks.
And not just four-year starter Jake Bentley. Freshmen Dakereon Joyner and Ryan Hilinski will also be in the spotlight as they battle for the No. 2 job behind Bentley.
Joyner, South Carolina’s high school player of the year in 2016 and the state’s Mr. Football as a senior, played in one game last year while working mostly with the scout team and taking a redshirt. Hilinski, a high school All-American who was rated the No. 2 pro-style quarterback in the country, is a true freshman who looked good during spring practice. Redshirt sophomore Jay Urich will continue to meet with the quarterback group but is working out primarily as a wide receiver after catching nine passes during the Garnet & Black Spring Game.
Joyner and Hilinski both looked good in the spring game and will carry their battle for the backup job into fall camp. Both quarterbacks will get a long look in the two preseason scrimmages on Aug. 12 and Aug. 17.
“Hopefully, after that 15th practice, we start whittling it down,” Muschamp said. “We will have a couple of more fundamental practices before we start on North Carolina. In that period, we would like to have something there.”
Though Joyner and Hilinski have different skill sets, with Joyner more of a threat as a runner and dual-threat quarterback, Bentley has been impressed with both of them.
“They are two guys who are just hungry to play and hungry to be great. Two guys that really love football,” Bentley said. “You can just tell that when you talk to them. They push me every day just like I try to push them to be in the best shape you can be. That’s what teammates are all about and what our team is about.”
While Hilinski is more of a pure passer with the arm and talent to run South Carolina's up-tempo passing attack, Joyner is a more versatile player with the ability to change a game with his arm or legs. He's an elusive runner who can make big plays in the running game, so it will be interesting to see if Muschamp tries to get him on the field even if he is the backup quarterback.
Bentley, who took over as South Carolina’s starting quarterback as a true freshman, has started 32 of the last 33 games. He threw for 3,171 yards and 27 touchdowns last year and is in position to break most of the school passing records. He missed one game to injury last season, when backup Michael Scarnecchia took over and led the Gamecocks to a 37-35 win over Missouri.
If Bentley should go down again, the Gamecocks will have to turn to one of the two freshmen. Bentley believes both Joyner and Hilisnki would give South Carolina a chance to win as the starter.
“I think they both equally give the team the best chance to win,” he said. “Seriously, they are two great quarterbacks. They are different, for sure, but I think both of them have great ability and it’s going to be really special to see them progress going forward.”
While Joyner and Hilinski battle for the backup job, they are also competing to put themselves in position to replace Bentley as the starter after this season. Bentley, meanwhile, is doing as much as he can to help the two young players improve and grow.
“I’m really trying to support them. I don’t want to leave Carolina thinking I could have told them something that will help them down the line," Bentley said. "That’s what they did with me, Perry Orth and Hayden Hurst and guys who just poured themselves into me and gave me all the knowledge they had. That’s what I really want to do with Ryan and Dakereon, just give them all I can to help them and encourage them along the way."