COLUMBIA — When quarterback Connor Shaw settles in for the first snap of South Carolina's much-anticipated season-opener tonight against East Carolina, he won't be the only unfamiliar face in the Gamecocks lineup.
While the Gamecocks will have their share of household names in the lineup -- running back Marcus Lattimore, wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey, cornerback Stephon Gilmore and defensive end Devin Taylor -- there will be plenty of new faces making an impact.
Super freshman Jadeveon Clowney will be making his collegiate debut against the Pirates, while former Berkeley High School star Bruce Ellington will be playing in his first football game in nearly two years.
Most of the spotlight will be on Shaw, the sophomore from Flowery Branch, Ga., who will be making his first career start against the Pirates at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier surprised Gamecock Nation on Thursday night when he announced on his weekly radio show that Shaw will start in place of fifth-year senior Stephen Garcia.
"We've gone through preseason," Spurrier said Thursday night. "The guy who rated the best was Connor Shaw. He played better than Stephen Garcia. Simple as that. So he's going to start the game."
This will be Shaw's first significant playing time since entering the game in the fourth quarter last year against Auburn. (Shaw was 4 of 5 for 70 yards and two interceptions against Auburn).
Besides Shaw, Clowney might be the second-most watched player in the Gamecocks lineup. The nation's No. 1 overall high school recruit a year ago, Clowney will be playing less than 30 miles from his hometown of Rock Hill.
"I've got a lot of family and friends going to the game," Clowney said. "I don't want to disappoint them."
A year ago, Ellington, a back-up wide receiver and kickoff return specialist, was working out with the Gamecocks basketball team. He led the Gamecocks in scoring and then decided in March to play try his hand at football. Ellington led Berkeley High School to the Division II-AAAA state title in 2009.
"I can't wait to get back on the field," Ellington said. "I know once the game starts it'll be like I never stopped playing."
Sophomore free safety Jimmy Legree, making his first career start, will be counted on to help solidify a secondary besieged by injuries and suspensions.
"I'll be a little nervous until that first hit," Legree said.
Freshman wide receiver Damiere Byrd is hoping to capitalize on a strong preseason camp with playing time tonight.