COLUMBIA, S.C. — Deebo Samuel is gone for the foreseeable future and his absence will impact more than the South Carolina football team’s offense.
Special teams matter, too.
If Samuel doesn’t return kickoffs for touchdowns against North Carolina State and Missouri, South Carolina may not have started the season with a 2-0 record. The two returns, both of which went for 97 yards, proved to be critical scores for the Gamecocks in those wins.
Samuel is one of four players who has returned two kickoffs for touchdowns this season. But the Gamecocks still have a capable return man in Rashad Fenton, a junior cornerback who took a 96-yard kickoff to the house as a freshman against LSU.
“Right now, Rashad Fenton is the kick returner and A.J. [Turner] stays as the off returner, as far as kickoff is concerned,” coach Will Muschamp said. “Certainly Rico [Dowdle] is a guy that can go back, Shi Smith is a guy that can go back. Ty’Son Williams can go back as an off returner. We have some options.”
For his career, Fenton has returned 16 kicks for 437 yards. One of his two returns last season went for 50 yards.
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Turner, who averaged 24.7 yards per return in 2016, has returned six kicks this season with a long of 23. Dowdle’s lone return in 2017 went for 21 yards. Smith has only seen time at wide receiver during his first three games at South Carolina.
More special teams
Late last season, before Elliott Fry made his final kick, the all-time leading scorer in school history touted Alex Woznick as a viable candidate to break his record.
Woznick missed an extra-point attempt and a field goal versus Kentucky, so he will give way to another walk-on redshirt freshman, Parker White, who missed two kicks from more than 50 yards against the Wildcats.
White, for now, is going to handle all place-kicking duties, in addition to kickoffs.
Joseph Charlton’s 43.9 yards per punt ranks seventh in the SEC. As a team, the Gamecocks also rank in the top half of the SEC in kickoff coverage.