After delaying NFL plans, Zacch Pickens has big goals for final South Carolina season

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South Carolina defensive tackle Zacch Pickens declined to disclose personal statistical goals he has set for this season, although he was more than happy to declare the biggest standard he hopes to reach.

"Right now I'm trying to have my jersey retired," Pickens said. "That's how good I want to be."

Whether his overall body of work during his soon to be four seasons will merit such a lofty honor remains to be seen, but if he can surpass last year's huge improvement he'll depart having had one heck of a career.

The former T.L. Hanna star, who entered college as the No. 8 overall prospect and No. 1 defensive lineman in the 2019 247Sports Composite, began to live up to that ranking last season. He registered 38 tackles, five for loss and four sacks while starting all 13 games for the Gamecocks, who finished 7-6 for their first winning season since 2018.

"I can have the same level of improvement I had last year and I've been working hard on that," Pickens said. "It's why I couldn't wait for camp, because I'm testing everything now. I'm trying out things and want to do something new every day. I'm definitely at my best as a senior because I know what I'm doing, what I'm up against. I've gotten into a role where I'm comfortable."

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Defensive coordinator Clayton White said he believes Pickens can "flourish even more."

"He understands that he wants to get better and he can't wait to practice," White said. "His ceiling is very high and he does everything right. He's in the building first, he takes care of his body and this is someone you want to look up to in regards to how you handle yourself."

As for his increased visibility outside the program after his 2021 season and increased responsibility among his teammates, Pickens is taking it in stride.

The USC football team held their first preseason football practice at the USC practice fields on Aug. 5, 2022. The team's head coach is Shane Beamer. Zacch Pickens (6) on the field.
The USC football team held their first preseason football practice at the USC practice fields on Aug. 5, 2022. The team's head coach is Shane Beamer. Zacch Pickens (6) on the field.

"I don't see why you should push it aside when there's an opportunity," he said. "You kind of like when everybody is watching you. It's exciting. You've got the pressure and now they want to see what you can do with it."

Pickens came close to leaving at the end of last season for the NFL, saying, "My foot was at the door. I was ready to go, but something told me I wasn't ready yet."

His decision centered mostly around earning his diploma (he's made the SEC Academic Honor Roll in each of his first three years), but the excitement coach Shane Beamer brought in his first season and the chance to increase his draft stock were also part of the picture.

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Beamer said he recalled thinking about whether Pickens would return.

"I felt like it could have gone either way," Beamer said. "It was probably trending in the opposite direction than what it ended up being. But it was huge for Zacch, because he felt like he needed it as a player, to continue to progress, develop and reach his ceiling. But then it’s a great statement about our program that he came back. He could be making a lot of money right now in an NFL training camp."

Beamer continued, "I know he’s excited for this upcoming season. He’s really worked hard. He makes our program better each and every day. Not only when he walks on that field, but when he walks in this building. The impact that he has on people and our program, him coming back was huge."

Eric Boynton writes for the USC TODAY Sports Network. Reach him at eboynton@gannett.com or follow on Twitter @ericjboynton

This article originally appeared on Greenville News: South Carolina football DT Zacch Pickens expecting huge success