South Carolina enters its 2019 season having graduated one of the program’s all-time greats — a player, Deebo Samuel, who changed the dynamic of the Gamecock passing attack. The Gamecocks now look to replace the production of Samuel, a player who ranks eighth in program history in receptions and tenth in receiving yards.
Enter Bryan Edwards.
And Shi Smith, Josh Vann, OrTre Smith, Randrecous Davis and Chavis Dawkins.
But it starts with the 6-3, 215-pound Edwards, a senior who has started 37 of the 38 games he has played in.
“Bryan, I think he’s the most underrated receiver in the nation. He’s just a workhorse,” South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley said at SEC Media Days. “You never see him not working on some part of his game at the facility.”
South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp has noted several times this offseason how Edwards — who he flew to Conway, S.C. to recruit on his first day as coach — “will probably leave South Carolina with every receiving record there is.”
Edwards enters his final campaign ranked fifth in receptions (163), sixth in receiving yards (2,229) and tied for ninth in receiving touchdowns (16).
“I’m a competitive guy and I want those records and I want to win,” Edwards said. “I know when we win games the records and stats are all going to come. My main goal this season is to win games. If you don’t have the wins what do the records mean? That’s what I want to do, win meaningful games.”
Muschamp believes Edwards is ready to take the torch from Samuel.
“We talked in terms of Bryan getting stronger and being more consistent catching the football, the deep ball especially, but he has worked extremely hard this summer and attacked the offseason,” the coach said.
“I’ve seen a lot of guys who make a decision to come back and kind of cruise through the offseason and cruise through summer. That’s not the right mentality and that’s not what Bryan has done. Bryan is in really good shape. He told me he’s in the best shape he’s been in at South Carolina.
“I expect him to have a great year.”
Edwards expects the same from the entire wide receiving corps.
“We can be whatever we want to be, I feel like,” the senior said. “We have the talent to do whatever we want to do. We have bigger guys like OrTre Smith. We have smaller guys like Shi Smith. Josh Vann is a guy that’s coming along.
“We have all of the tools to be whatever we want to be this year.”
Edwards has also before more of a mentor to the team’s younger receivers.
Said Edwards, “Being a leader is very important. … I know I have to control my room and the guys I’m leading and make sure they know their role is important on the team and make sure we are ready to play every week. … I’m just making sure everyone is where they need to be and make sure everyone is going hard and doing what they need to do to be successful.”
Said Bentley, “That’s something that I think he has worked on, he’s learned from or learning to do, to really give back to them, because he knows we are only going to be as good as the rest of the guys too,” Bentley said. “Me and Bryan can’t do it ourselves. Josh Vann, Shi Smith, OrTre Smith are going to have big years too. I think he understands that and is going everything, he can to help them along the way too.”
Shi Smith (Jr., 5-10, 190)
Smith has 74 career receptions for 1,082 yards with seven touchdowns in 24 games (16 starts). As a sophomore last season he hauled in 45 passes for 673 yards and four touchdowns. Look for the speedster to start either opposite Edwards or somewhere in the slot.
Josh Vann (So., 5-10, 185)
Listed as a co-starter, along with Randrecous Davis, Vann was named the Gamecock offense’s Most Improved Player in the spring and was named by Bentley as one of the team’s breakout players this summer. As a true freshman last season, he played in all 13 games (one start) and caught 18 passes for 118 yards and one touchdown.
“Josh Vann has had a fantastic summer,” Muschamp said. “We really challenged him as far as getting stronger in the weight room and doing the things you have to do to be successful and he has answered all of those things and really come on for us.”
OrTre Smith (So., 6-4, 220)
Smith returns after having knee surgery last fall. He was limited in the spring but will be a full-time participant this fall. In 2018 he played in just two games before succumbing to a lingering knee issue that required surgery.
“OrTre Smith is going to be back, he’s back full speed. It really hurt not having him last year,” Muschamp said.
Randrecous Davis (Jr., 5-10, 190)
Davis has appeared in 19 games over the past three seasons (three starts) and had four of his 12 career receptions in the 2018 Outback Bowl. He saw action in each of the first six games of the season before injuries curtailed his campaign and missed spring drills with a groin injury.
“Randrecous Davis is healthy for the first time in two years and has had a really good summer,” Muschamp said.
Chavis Dawkins (Sr., 6-2, 225)
Dawkins, also a regular contributor on special teams, has appeared in 35 games (four starts) over the past three seasons with 17 catches for 160 yards and a touchdown. Two of those starts came last year, against Ole Miss and Clemson.
“Chavis Dawkins as a senior has been a very dependable guy for us,” Muschamp said.
Chad Terrell (So., 6-3, 220)
The redshirt-sophomore is a year removed from a torn ACL that limited him during the 2018 season. He suffered the torn ACL in his left knee during spring camp on March 3 and underwent surgery but to see action in four games (Texas A&M, Clemson, Akron and Virginia). He should be a key contributor on special teams.
“Chad Terrell has been a guy that we have been excited about,” Muschamp said.
Tyquan Johnson (Fr., 6-3, 180)
Johnson has qualified and will report to practice. Originally part of the Gamecocks’ 2018 recruiting class, Johnson spent 2018 on the postgraduate roster at Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy.
“He was a guy we were really excited about two years ago,” Muschamp said. “We had him in camp. He earned his scholarship when he came in. He’s a big guy that runs extremely well on the top end. He can stick his foot in the ground. He caught the ball well. So we’ll see where he is August 2nd.”