COLUMBIA -- Of course he'll never be Sidney Rice. Not many people can be.
But Kenny McKinley's still pretty good, and he doesn't mind the constant questions -- "Can you replace Sidney?"
"I'm not trying to replace Sidney because me and him are two different types of receiver, but I know I can fit into that main role," South Carolina's junior receiver insisted. "Last year I played a role as the No. 2 receiver, so it's going to be nice to see how I do stepping into the No. 1 role."
Rice re-wrote the Gamecocks' record books during his career and was always the guy making the one-handed leaping catches in the end zone. McKinley, meanwhile, was doing the grunt work, going over the middle for a 5-yard slant, getting laid out by an enemy linebacker and popping right back up.
"I just try to take a lickin' and keep on tickin,'" he joked.
It was a perfect tandem -- the 6-foot-4, elegant Rice skying for 1,090 yards and 10 touchdowns while the dogged McKinley hauled in 880 yards and five scores. But after Rice caught a touchdown in the Liberty Bowl and decided two weeks later to try the NFL, the focus shifted to McKinley.
Everybody had the same message -- "You have to be the one, and you have to do it now."
McKinley replied, "No problem."
As the most experienced receiver of a group dripping potential, McKinley has also become the point-to leader. Freddie Brown has been with McKinley since they came in together three years ago, but Brown redshirted his first year, leaving McKinley as the main adviser to the Gamecocks' crop of youthful pass-catchers.
"Kenny, he's the man," said sophomore Moe Brown. "He's the proven guy right now. We kind of look to him."
"A lot of people, far as Moe Brown and Kenny McKinley, been helping me out a lot," said rookie phenom Chris Culliver, the team's fastest player and someone who's expected to contribute right away. "I talk to them a heck of a lot about running and catching the ball."
McKinley tries to balance it all while trying to improve. After catching two touchdowns in the Liberty Bowl, he ventured into coach Steve Spurrier's doghouse when he celebrated by hurling the ball into the stands. Spurrier was displeased by the showboating and mentioned it in his postgame press conference, saying McKinley "threw his game ball away."
But he was quickly back on Spurrier's good side. The head ball coach said he was counting on McKinley to be this year's Rice, the leader a young receiving group needs.
"Kenny McKinley's the old man of the group," Spurrier said. "Shoot, we may let him play quarterback too."
Spurrier's last comment referred to a trick play at Kentucky last year when McKinley, a former high school quarterback, took a reverse and threw a 22-yard touchdown to Syvelle Newton. McKinley clammed up when asked if there were any more passing plays for him this year, but mentioned he was ready for whatever he was asked to do.
"It's going to fly under (the radar) when you play with Sidney Rice, now," he said. "But I didn't mind because I came in that season just being the guy who could be the No. 2 receiver, someone who could take the pressure off Sidney. And that was my role.
"Now that Sidney's gone, I got a new role, and that's to step up as the man and help the team."