COLUMBIA, S.C. — Fittingly, A.J. Turner still was catching his breath after Monday’s practice as he explained the extra post-practice work he has been putting in to try and make South Carolina’s open starting running back spot his.
So far, so good as that additional effort has been paying off for the redshirt freshman running back, who has been taking the first-team reps for the first week of camp.
“Honestly, I just know I have been putting in the work,” Turner said. “I’m not betting on anything. I’m getting first-team reps. I have been for almost a week now, so I’m not banking on anything until the season starts.”
The 5-foot-10 Turner stands atop the South Carolina depth chart at running back, leading Darius Paulk and Rod Talley for the job. David Williams, believed to be the likely starter, is in fourth from what both Turner and Talley said Monday as the second week of fall camp got underway.
Turner, who redshirted last year after arriving from Clifton, Va., pointed to his effort and speed for putting him in the lead with three weeks left until the season opener at Vanderbilt on Sept. 1. But he also knows why he is staying after practices to get extra work.
“I’m working on my assignments and knowing where I’m supposed to be and my different techniques and stuff like that,” Turner said. “They said I have to improve on that, so I’m trying to do that. I’m trying to stay after practice and do some extra work.”
Pass protection, which Turner said is “not a natural thing for anybody,” is another one of those elements of his game under progress. That challenge, along with the potential of being an every-down back, partially comes back to the fact Turner is hovering between 195 and 197 pounds.
He’s downing 5,500 calories a day to try and bulk up during one of the most challenging times of year to add weight, as the grind of fall camp leaves little time and less energy to be in the weight room.
“I’ve been working my butt off in the weight room and in the meeting rooms and out here in practice,” he said. “I’ve been doing extra stuff to help me. Eating extra. Drinking protein shakes and doing extra lifts. I’m trying to do everything that I can to put that weight on.”
The work has no ill effects on Turner, who had a smile on his face plenty Monday, while also voicing the potential milestone it would be to earn the starting spot for the Gamecocks this season. He had just finished another grueling day with another on the horizon, but he knows what each day brings in practice, including the looming first scrimmage Saturday.
“I view everyday as putting distance between myself and the other running backs,” he said. “Every day is a day to compete and a day to get better. You gotta do what you gotta do to get the starting job and get those reps. That’s what I’m trying to do. Put in some extra work and just grinding.”
But where things stand now is not what Turner is interested in. Where they are in Nashville on Sept. 1 will be the true test of his work.
“That’s when I’ll see where I’m at,” he said.
Mike Wilson covers South Carolina athletics for SECCountry.com and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter for the latest on the Gamecocks.