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‘Something to prove’: Gamecocks receiving group eyes big turnaround

·4 min read

As a player, Justin Stepp always played with something to prove. He has brought that mindset to his coaching career.

Stepp is in his first season as South Carolina receivers coach and he’s heard the doubts folks have about his group. The Gamecocks lost 39.4% of their receiving yards from last season — most of that from Shi Smith — and have a lot of unproven guys or ones who haven’t reached their full potential since arriving at USC.

All that will be used by Stepp as motivation for USC’s receiving corps.

“I see a group that is hungry and that has worked since we have been here and has a chip on their shoulder with something to prove,” Stepp said at the Birdies with Beamer event last week. “We talk in our room that they are playing with something to prove and I’m coaching with something to prove. I’m coaching to prove that coach Beamer made the best hire at wide receivers coach, and you guys are proving people wrong that say we don’t have much talent in this group.”

“... We got a lot of guys that are going to surprise people this year. We are going to play a lot harder. I think we have enough talent to have a pretty good year.”

South Carolina’s first practice is Friday, with kickoff Sept. 4 against Eastern Illinois.

USC receivers: What we know

South Carolina’s top four pass catchers a season ago only included one wide receiver in Shi Smith (57 catches for 643 yards).

Stepp said that former South Carolina Mr. Football Dakereon Joyner continues to impress as he transitions to a full-time receiving role. Joyner earned the team’s offensive and special teams MVP honors in the spring. He bounced back and forth from quarterback to receiver since arriving at USC but is in his second season as a full-time receiver.

“I see a kid that has found his love for the game, found his love for his teammates. No job is too small for DK,” Stepp said. “I can’t say enough good things about the leader that DK is and the young man that he is. I’m just excited I get a chance to coach him.”

Xavier Legette is among the top returning receivers — with seven catches for 113 yards a year ago — and is hoping for bigger things this season. Jalen Brooks (11 for 100 last season) should also be a factor. Brooks wasn’t cleared to play until the fifth game in 2020 after transferring from Tarleton State.

Senior Josh Vann (10 for 88, 1 TD) is a former four-star prospect and the most experienced receiver of the group, appearing in 32 games and making eight starts.

Other ones to watch will be transfers Ahmarean Brown and E.J. Jenkins, former walk-on Trey Adkins, OrTre Smith walk-on Peyton Mangum, sophomores Ger-Cari Caldwell and Rico Powers, and freshmen O’Mega Blake and Sam Reynolds.

USC receivers: What’s undecided

Jenkins’ impact on the offense is one of the big unknowns as practice begins. The transfer from St. Francis (Pennsylvania), an FCS school, has all the tools to be successful at 6-foot-7, 243 pounds. He has been splitting time at both receiver and tight end this spring and should help out in both areas.

Another question is how much OrTre Smith will contribute to the group. Smith opted out of last season because of COVID-19 and has been bothered by injuries that started near the end of his high school career.

Stepp said they plan to be careful and monitor Smith during preseason camp.

“It is hard for him to do things consistently because his body kind of wears down,” Stepp said. “It is on us to make sure we don’t crush him the first three weeks of camp. We got to load manage so he can make it through fall.”

Gamecock receivers projected depth chart

Starters: Dakereon Joyner, EJ Jenkins, Jalen Brooks

Backups: OrTre Smith, Ahmarean Brown, Josh Vann, Xavier Legette, Rico Powers, Ger-Cari Caldwell, Trey Adkins, Sam Reynolds, Peyton Mangum, O’Mega Blake

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