COLUMBIA, S.C. — Hayden Hurst got a glimpse of what Rico Dowdle could do early in preseason workouts.
The South Carolina freshman running back took one cut, juking a linebacker, and was off to the races. The moment left a lasting memory with Hurst, who recalled what he said to quarterback Perry Orth following the play.
“I kind of stood back and I told Perry, ‘He’s gonna be special,’” Hurst said.
It just took a little while to see what Dowdle could do in games, as he suffered a groin injury early in camp and was sidelined until October. But while the Gamecocks waited, Hurst was sitting back and anticipating the new dimension he felt Dowdle would add to the offense.
“He is electric back there,” Hurst said. “Whenever he touches the ball, he can score from anywhere on the field. It’s nice having a running back like that in there.”
That ability has been on display in the past four games. Dowdle has scored 3 touchdowns, rushing 59 times for 291 yards since he returned from injury. He’s leading the Gamecocks in carries per game and seeing a steady increase in his opportunities recently.
The 5-foot-11, 211-pound Dowdle had his biggest outing to-date on Saturday against Tennessee, rushing 27 times for 127 yards – his first 100-yard game.
As the Gamecocks enter November, Dowdle is performing like the player coach Will Muschamp and his staff expected he could be.
“We felt very comfortable that he was going to be a very good player,” Muschamp said. “I don’t think you ever know until you get between the white lines and play on game day. You just never know how quickly the maturation process takes place and when they’re ready to go.
“But there was no doubt that we felt like in camp that he was going to be a really good football player.”
On Tuesday, the Gamecocks coach recalled Dowdle’s recruitment after he was hired in December.
Offensive line coach Shawn Elliott was recruiting Dowdle already, while he held the role of interim head coach. Upon Muschamp’s hire, coaches spent time watching film of commits and potential recruits. Dowdle jumped out for his explosiveness and change of direction ability.
“You saw all those things that excite you,” Muschamp said.
That feeling is present again for Muschamp and the Gamecocks coaches. Dowdle made his debut against Texas A&M on Oct. 1 and it became clear he was another weapon in a backfield that already included junior David Williams and redshirt freshman A.J. Turner.
Dowdle has earned a pair of starts, a role he seemed likely to hold again Saturday as the Gamecocks host Missouri (4 p.m. ET, SEC Network).
“I kinda expected once he put the pads on, the helmet on, he was going to be able to do the things he is doing now,” Hurst said. “It’s nice having a guy like that in the offense. …
“It’s been really nice having him back.”