COLUMBIA, S.C. – What once was a joke made by defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson now is reality for South Carolina’s Javon Charleston.
The redshirt freshman moved from wide receiver to defensive back during the weekend. Coach Will Muschamp’s search for more depth in the secondary brought Charleston over to the defense for the first time since he was in middle school.
“They told me I was going to move over to safety and I would have an opportunity to play as long as I go out there and improve and show that I know what I’m doing,” Charleston said. “We only have four safeties total right now, I think, so I will definitely be able to go out there and make something happen.”
The move came as a surprise to the 6-foot, 195-pound walk-on, who was the No. 2 receiver on the depth chart heading into preseason camp. He was quick to welcome the change, though.
“I was working to be one of the best receivers this fall,” Charleston said. “Now it’s my job to work to be one of the best DBs and one of the best safeties. Regardless of the move, I have to work my hardest to get to where I need to be by Week 1.”
The Gurnee, Ill., native is staring at a steep learning curve. Charleston must adapt to a new position, new defensive schemes and a new playbook. Charleston said he has been working with Muschamp and Robinson. He is getting as much work as he can, studying film and preparing to get on the field.
“They are trying to throw a lot on me,” Charleston said, “but they are simplifying it by just giving me the zone, giving me what to look at exactly, and then they’re trying to pick it up by giving me different schemes and different coverages and stuff like that. It’s definitely a lot to learn, but that’s why I’ve gotta get in and put in extra work and really work hard at this.”
The hardest part for Charleston hasn’t been the mental aspects of playing safety. It’s the footwork. Charleston is growing accustomed to backpedaling and leveraging instead of looking to create separation. He’s using the knowledge from playing receiver to help him as he works against his former position group.
“I know what the wide receivers try to do to widen the defender, how they are breaking off stems and trying to step on the defender’s toes,” Charleston said. “I’m ready for all of that. I just have to make sure I get physical with them and don’t let them create separation.”
Through the first few practices since the move, Charleston has been getting reps with the first, second and third teams. It’s more than he expected. Charleston thought he might be headed for mental reps during the first week, but he’s been getting his share of snaps to learn on the fly.
He just has to remember to head for the right huddle. Charleston laughed at how he almost lined up as a wide receiver during a 1-on-1 drill in practice on Tuesday night. The rest is just knowing what to do as he continues to learn.
“Coach Muschamp likes my athleticism, and I’ve never backed down from a challenge or anything like that,” Charleston said. “I’m physical and everything, so I’m ready to go out there and give it a try.”
Mike Wilson covers South Carolina athletics for SECCountry.com and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter for the latest on the Gamecocks.