With signing day 2017 fast approaching, South Carolina is primed to sign a bunch of players who should have an immediate impact.
For the second straight year, it appears the Gamecocks will have a heavy true freshman presence on the field. In 2016, that was a big reason for success, as the South Carolina offense relied on a handful of true freshmen throughout the season.
We take a look back at the contributions made by first-year players at South Carolina:
Quarterback Jake Bentley
This list, of course, begins with Bentley. He wasn’t in the lineup at the start of the season, but the 2016 Gamecocks became the 2016 Gamecocks when he became the starting quarterback at midseason. The should-have-been high school senior led South Carolina to a 4-2 second half and a bowl berth. Bentley finished the year on a high note with 390 passing yards and 3 touchdowns in the Birmingham Bowl. He threw for 1,420 yards and 9 touchdowns with a 65.8 percent completion percentage.
Quarterback Brandon McIlwain
McIlwain was the freshman quarterback with the biggest buzz before the season and he backed it up early. He split time with Perry Orth, taking the starting spot for three straight games early in the season. He injected life into the USC offense against East Carolina, but struggled after that as the offense went stagnant with some injuries. McIlwain had a role after Bentley took over as a running quarterback, finishing the year with 600 yards passing and 2 touchdowns with 127 yards and 2 rushing scores.
Running back Rico Dowdle
As key as Bentley was for improving the passing attack, Dowdle was key for improving the rushing attack. He brought the combination of speed and size, power and shiftiness to the running back position. It was a welcome sight for a team that struggled to run the ball this season. Dowdle averaged 5.74 yards per carry, scoring 6 touchdowns and rushing for 764 yards. He ran for 226 yards against Western Carolina – the sixth-best total in school history – scoring twice and averaging more than 10 yards per carry.
Wide receiver Bryan Edwards
Edwards was set to start from Day 1 on campus, which came when he enrolled early in the spring. He missed some games with injury early in the season, but was a key No. 2 wide receiver opposite from Deebo Samuel. He finished his first year with 44 catches for 590 yards and 4 touchdowns. He broke out in a big way with a 101-yard receiving game in the season opener, but caught all four of his touchdowns in the second half.
Wide receiver Chavis Dawkins
The big-bodied outside target had a highlight-reel 34-yard grab against Missouri to set up a touchdown. He got a lot of big snaps early in the season when Edwards and Samuel were sidelined at the same time. Dawkins ended the year with 8 catches for 69 yards.
Wide receiver Randrecous Davis
Davis looked like he was set to play a nice role in the offense as he got more involved in Samuel’s absence, but a hamstring injury sidelined him and he wound up taking a medical redshirt. He had 3 catches for 45 yards and a rushing attempt for 7 yards.
Wide receiver Korey Banks
Banks played in 5 games as a true freshman, but didn’t record a catch until the Birmingham Bowl. The slot receiver finished the year with 1 catch for 5 yards.
Tight end Kiel Pollard
Pollard played in 12 games, but had just 1 catch for 18 yards. He was part of a deep tight end group that featured Hayden Hurst and K.C. Crosby most prominently.
Defensive end D.J. Wonnum
The big defensive end was talked about well early in the preseason. Wonnum wound up playing in every game in a reserve defensive end role, recording 16 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. With both starting defensive ends graduating, Wonnum is in line for more next year.
RELATED: D.J. Wonnum continues to turn heads
Defensive tackle Kier Thomas
Thomas, like Wonnum, was destined to play early and he got action in all 13 games this season. He finished tied for second on the team with 2 sacks among his 24 tackles and 4 tackles for loss.
Linebacker T.J. Brunson
South Carolina started three senior linebackers throughout the year, leaving Brunson as one of the primary backups. He played in 11 games and had 12 tackles in a reserve role behind T.J. Holloman, Bryson Allen-Williams and Jonathan Walton.
Here is a chart with the number of games played and started for freshmen.
|Name||No. games played||No. of games started|