These two leaders bring a ‘nasty’ energy to the Gamecocks defense — in a good way

Greg Hadley
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These two leaders bring a ‘nasty’ energy to the Gamecocks defense — in a good way

In the 20 or so practices that make up South Carolina football’s training camp, the Gamecocks are a team divided -- offense vs. defense.

And that competition can get quite fierce. Senior quarterback Jake Bentley was reminded of that the hard way.

“(The secondary) ran a different coverage and I wanted to ask (sophomore cornerback Jaycee Horn) like, ‘What are you looking at that play?’” Bentely said. “‘Man, don’t talk to me,’ (he said.) And it’s just that fierceness about it, he’s just competing every day. He’ll talk to me in the locker room, but when he’s out there, he sees us as the enemy, and it just makes us a lot better.”

That “nasty” attitude, as Bentley described it, is part of an intense, hard-charging energy Horn and fellow sophomore corner Israel Mukuamu bring to USC’s secondary, a unit that, thanks to a deluge of injuries last season and a scarcity of upperclassmen, looks to Horn and Mukuamu as leaders.

“Me and Izzy are just trying to set the standard for the young guys, show them to run to the ball every play,” Horn said. “We all just try to do our part and show the young defensive backs how to work.”

Horn talking about the team’s “young guys” when he and Mukuamu only have one season under their belts may seem odd, but their approach has set them apart as leaders for a while now, Muschamp said.

“I checked curfew last year during camp and the two guys not in their beds are Israel and Jaycee. Well they’re back over here (in the stadium) watching film at 10:30 at night. They’re supposed to be in their bed at 10. That’s a good thing,” Muschamp said. “Jaycee’s mentality, and I would include Israel, their mentality has become very contagious on our team.”

Bentley sees that in practice and said that it has spread to the entire unit

“I’d say (the secondary) has seen the biggest transformation since coach has been here. And I think it’s a lot of credit to Jaycee and Israel and just the attitude that they bring each and every day,” Bentley said.

And in training camp, when there’s no opponent to face for weeks at a time, that hyper-competitiveness means any play Horn and Mukuamu make at Bentley’s expense is cause for celebration.

“They don’t care how they get it, whether it’s tipped or not. Shoot, DJ Wonnum does a great job of jumping up and getting his hands on some balls. So I think one got tipped and might have went to Izzy, and he was doing his dance and jumping up,” Bentley recalled.

And it’s not just the defensive backs who feed off the sophomores’ energy.

“When we are up in the defensive back room, everyone is up,” Mukuamu said. “When we’re making plays and flying around, it feeds off to the linebackers and the D linemen. As long as we’re up and we have the energy in the defense, it’s going to affect everyone else.”

In order to maintain that level of enthusiasm day in and day, Horn and Mukuamu said, they lean on each other.

“We hold each other accountable. So one day I might be up and Jaycee might be down, so I gotta bring him up, or one day I might be down and he’s bringing me up,” Mukuamu said.