COLUMBIA, S.C. — Comparing freshman Bryan Edwards to someone isn’t something Deebo Samuel hasn’t put any thought into. But from what others have said, the South Carolina freshman wide receiver brings back memories of a player who used to wear Samuel’s No. 1.
“They say he plays like Alshon (Jeffery),” Samuel said.
That’s a big comparison to make, putting the name of South Carolina’s all-time leading receiver and current Chicago Bears star with that of a true freshman who just played in his first career game. But on Thursday night in Nashville, the array of skills that have led people inside the program to make the comparisons were on full display.
Time and time again, the 6-foot-3 Edwards came up big for the Gamecocks in their season-opening 13-10 win at Vanderbilt.
“He’s a big-time playmaker,” Samuel said. “When the pressure was on, he was there to make the catch.”
Edwards started the game and finished with eight catches for 101 yards. The numbers he posted dwarfed Jeffery’s one-catch debut in 2009.
On one particular third-quarter reception Thursday, Edwards showed why the Jeffery comparisons could hold water and why he was such a highly coveted recruit out of Conway, S.C. With the Gamecocks backed up near their goal line on a third-and-long, senior quarterback Perry Orth lofted a pass toward the right sideline. The ball looked destined to land out of bounds with Edwards facing tight coverage from Vanderbilt’s Bryce Lewis. But the freshman turned back, left the ground, caught the ball above Lewis and tapped both feet inbounds before crashing down on the USC sideline.
“He has been doing that since the spring when he got here,” Samuel said.
Edwards arrived early in January as one of the biggest coups in the 2016 recruiting class with coach Will Muschamp and his staff convincing him to join the program after he had de-committed from South Carolina last November. With the need for impact playmakers right away, it was a quick path for Edwards to playing time.
He started next to Samuel and Jamari Smith in his first action, but it took a little bit before he got on the stat sheet. He had a pair of early catches in the second quarter before he took off late in the game, including the 33-yard highlight grab on the sideline.
“We made plays we had to make,” Muschamp said. “Number 89 made a bunch of plays he had to make.”
Edwards had catches on all three South Carolina scoring drives, as he made six catches for 89 yards after halftime. Four of Edwards’ second-half receptions led to first downs, while two were key third-down conversions.
He also was the target on the first play of each fourth-quarter drive for the Gamecocks, both of which led to points in the late comeback win.
For Orth, having Edwards as a target in big moments was a welcome sight as he said he has all the confidence in the world in the freshman receiver.
“Y’all saw that tonight what he is capable of,” Orth said. “He’s been doing that since we started spring ball back in March. He’s that kinda talent and he is going to be huge for us the rest of the season.”
Mike Wilson covers South Carolina athletics for SECCountry.com and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter for the latest on the Gamecocks.