COLUMBIA — There will be more changes. As long as the coronavirus remains a threat, there will be constant pivoting and adjusting.
But as South Carolina heads into the next phase of preseason football practice, the Gamecocks appear to be in a good place.
“We’ve told our guys since the spring, the mature responsible teams are going to be the successful teams. I’m really proud of how our guys have handled it,” South Carolina coach Will Muschamp said Wednesday. “We’re encouraging them to lead a very boring life right now. Nothing wrong with that. Boring is good.”
He confirmed that less than five percent of his team tested positive for COVID-19 since returning to campus, and two of the positives in July were from players who left town and came back. The safe bubble created by the players in the football operations building is working, but that environment is about to be severely tested.
The majority of the student body will return in two weeks. Classes, which will be a mix of in-person and online, begin on Aug. 20. The season won’t start until Sept. 26, but there’s simply no way of ensuring that players can be around other students and remain virus free.
“Obviously wearing a mask is extremely important, washing your hands is extremely important, but what you’re bringing up is the exposure to the unknown,” Muschamp said. “I would guess that there’s probably at least 10,000 students on our campus right now. You drive through Five Points at 9:30, there’s a lot of them out. They’re not social distancing, either.”
The SEC pushed back the start of the season, limited it to 10 conference games and added two bye weeks in the schedule in case of COVID-19 outbreaks. The league also mandated that teams can start a new period of 14-hour-per-week workouts on Friday and carry them through Aug. 16 before starting regular preseason camp on Aug. 17.
Everything’s being done so mass infections can be handled. Some of the effects are already touching USC.
Offensive linemen Mark Fox and Jordan Rhodes have opted to sit out the 2020 season, Muschamp said. They will remain on scholarship but aren’t with the team right now.
Fox redshirted as a freshman last year. Rhodes became the starting left guard in the Gamecocks’ second game last year and was being counted on to start again this year, most likely at right guard.
As the Gamecocks begin progressing toward fall camp, one question looms. Sophomore Ryan Hilinski would seem to be the presumptive favorite to start at quarterback, but there will be a battle for the job, perhaps throughout the year.
Collin Hill transferred from Colorado State to be with his former head coach and new USC offensive coordinator Mike Bobo. A fifth-year senior, Hill has an ingrained knowledge of what Bobo wants from his offense.
He is coming off a third torn ACL in five years but is fully healthy for camp. Hilinski also had minor knee surgery in the offseason but is ready to go.
True freshman Luke Doty is also raising eyebrows with his sheer athleticism. He remains a full-time quarterback but has been working out at slot receiver.
“He can contribute to our team and help us win football games, bottom line,” Muschamp said. “He’s a guy that’s going to be playing multiple spots for us.”
Doty could also see time at holder on special teams, where USC is replacing most of its personnel outside of senior kicker Parker White. Freshman Kai Kroeger, rated one of the top punters in the country, should take over for the departed Joseph Charlton and could also hold, as White has already developed a rapport and comfort level with him.
Jahmar Brown, who sparkled last year as a freshman linebacker, is moving to safety although he will still play linebacker in a dime package.
Preseason Injury List
LB Rosendo Louis (quadricep) Should return by mid-September
WR Chad Terrell (ACL) Should return by mid-September
TE Eric Shaw (bone spurs) Should return in two weeks
TE Jaheim Bell (meniscus) Should return by first of October
LB Ernest Jones (appendix) Set to practice on Friday
Follow David Cloninger on Twitter @DCPandC.