By Jeff Owens/Photo by SC Athletics
CHARLOTTE — Like most college football players, Zack Bailey and the other South Carolina offensive linemen like to spend their spare time playing the hottest video games.
Not center Donell Stanley.
“I don’t like to play video games,” he said.
The fifth-year junior would rather take a nap. Or go fishing on Lake Murray.
“I am the old guy. They call me grandad,” Stanley said Friday at the Belk Bowl Media Day.
With Bailey having already wrapped up his stellar career (he broke his left leg in the season finale against Akron), and seniors Dennis Daley, Blake Camper and Malik Young playing their final games Saturday, Stanley is the heart and soul of the Gamecock offensive line.
A self-described “country boy” who likes to hunt and fish and listen to country music, the Floydale, S.C. native has always felt like the “old guy” on the offensive line. He red-shirted as a freshman, played 12 games as a redshirt freshman and then received a medical redshirt after missing most of his sophomore season with an injury. He started last season at left guard and this season at center.
“I’m the old guy. I’m the guy that everybody looks to me as the leader, especially the young guys,” Stanley said. “They try to follow my lead so I try to set a good example. We have fun and everything but we know when it’s time to be serious. That’s the thing about our group, we are probably the most mature group on the team. We go about our business and go about it the right way. We know our expectations.”
Led by Stanley and Bailey, South Carolina has its best offensive line in years, one that helped the Gamecock offense average 33 points and 440 yards per game. Stanley has been the leader of that group.
“Donny is just that solid rock for us,” quarterback Jake Bentley said. “He is just so consistent in what he brings to the table each and every day. He comes out to practice with the right mindset to get better. Donny is just a great guy to have in the locker room, a great teammate and a great friend, just a guy you want to have around.”
While Stanley has been a key cog in the up-tempo offense, helping Bentley read the defense and make protection calls, he has also been a mentor to young linemen like sophomore Sadarius Hutcherson and freshmen Dylan Wonnum and Hank Manos.
“I think the young guys look to him as an example of what hard work looks like and getting it done whatever it takes,” Bentley said.
With Bailey missing the bowl game, Stanley has moved back to guard and has helped prepare Manos to start at center. He says the young freshman has embraced the role and is ready.
“Hank has stepped up tremendously this week,” he said. “He probably didn’t think he would play at all this year but he came in and he took that center spot and I have all the confidence in the world in him.”
While Stanley prepares for his second straight bowl game, his future is a bit uncertain. A fifth-year junior, he has another year of eligibility but is considering entering the NFL Draft.
Head coach Will Muschamp says Stanley should have value in the NFL.
“In that league, because of the limited rosters, he can play multiple spots,” he said. “He can be a center and he can be a guard. He could be a swing tackle if he had to. He’s very bright. He’s very intelligent. He has really good toughness and he can get movement inside on big people.”
Though he has a tough decision to make, Stanley admits it will be tough to leave South Carolina and Columbia. As an old grandad, he’s at home in his home state.
“I love this place too much,” he said. “And Lake Murray has been good to me.”