By Jeff Owens/Photo by SC Athletics
You might be surprised to learn who is South Carolina’s fastest running back.
It’s not Rico Dowdle, the usual starter who has three 100-yard games.
It’s not the explosive Ty’Son Williams, who started against Ole Miss and had 104 yards receiving.
And it’s not the versatile A.J. Turner, who returns kickoffs, plays on every special teams unit and has breakaway speed.
No, it’s Mon Denson, the physical grinder who is sometimes considered the third- or fourth-string back but tends to come up big when he’s in the game.
“Oh no, I’m the fastest. They got me on [record], I’m the fastest,” Denson said.
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Williams backs him up.
“He’s probably one of the faster guys in our room. We see it all the time,” he said. “I think the numbers say that. I can’t lie, the numbers say it. He’s fast.”
Denson showed it against Ole Miss, breaking loose for a 69-yard run to set up South Carolina’s game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter.
“He was moving on that run,” Williams said. “It was close to some NFL guys as far as his mph.”
Denson led the Gamecocks with 102 yards rushing last week after injuries sidelined Dowdle and Williams. He is expected to get the bulk of the carries Saturday against Florida, sharing the load with Turner. Williams has a broken hand but is expected to play with a cast on his left hand, while Dowdle is questionable with an ankle injury.
“All three of those guys, they’re all No. 1s,” Will Muschamp said of Denson, Turner and Williams.
Ironically, Dowdle and Williams did not play against Florida last year and Turner and Denson both shined in a 28-20 South Carolina win. Turner led the Gamecocks with 136 yards rushing, while Denson had 61 yards rushing and two touchdowns.
They are both looking to have big days again as the Gamecocks try to emphasize the running game, a big key in the win two weeks ago against Tennessee.
Turner, who has missed much of the last three games with a concussion, says he is finally 100 percent and anxious to take on a bigger role.
“We really prepare the same every week,” he said. “You never know what is going to happen. You always prepare the same and always work hard, especially me and Mon being a little hungry and wanting the ball more. I think we take it up to the next level.”
Denson redshirted as a freshman and did not play as a reserve two years ago. He rushed for just 152 yards in limited action last year. He has battled a hamstring injury most of this season, but has rushed for 169 yards on 28 carries and is averaging 6.0 yards per carry.
He admits the injury and lack of playing time has been frustrating at times but he has handled it well.
“The injuries have been the main thing,” he said. “You have to overcome them, but I feel pretty good right now.”
“I’m sure he has [been frustrated], but he has not shown it one day,” Muschamp said. “He’s a great teammate. He’s a guy that makes the most of opportunities to go play well and get more opportunities. I’m glad that he’s had the success he’s had in the opportunities he’s had, because he’s had a lot of success running the football for us.”
Though Denson may be proud of his speed, it’s his toughness and physical style that impresses his teammates and coaches. Offensive line coach Eric Wolford calls him “dirty No. 34” for his tendency to gain tough yards.
“He’s a very tough back,” senior offensive lineman Blake Camper said. “I have a lot of respect for Mon. He gets those dirty yards and those bull yards. He runs hard and it was exciting to see him break that long one.
"I appreciate him for the work he brings each day. Even though at times he feels he could play more, he shows up when he gets his number called.”