College Sports

Youthful D-line ready for action

COLUMBIA -- South Carolina defensive line coach Brad Lawing wasn't worried about the youth of his squad.

The exuberance more than made up for the lack of experience.

"With young guys that are eager, I've always found out they improve a lot quicker than, I call them, those 'sleepy-eye guys,'" Lawing said. "I've never liked those 'sleepy-eye guys.' The type that sits back there and it's too cool and all that kind of stuff.

"I like guys that are wide-eyed and eager and they want to learn. That's what all these guys are."

With the Gamecocks' season-opener a day away, the defensive front is stocked with new faces. Most of the starters are familiar names but the guys behind them, who will get an extended audition against Louisiana-Lafayette, are the future.

Newcomers Cliff Matthews, Jonathan Williams, Ladi Ajiboye and Travian Robertson played well enough in preseason camp to earn spots on the two-deep depth chart, Robertson listed as a starting defensive end. Combined with three sophomores on the rest of the defense, USC's got plenty of reasons to feel confident about its ability to shut down opponents this year and next.

"We're going to get as many guys experience as we can," Lawing said. "But we've got to win the football game. That's the main thing."

Williams, Ajiboye and Robertson got a head start on practice when they enrolled early, participating in the spring session. Williams will back up Marque Hall, returning from a knee injury, at one tackle spot while Ajiboye, a constant earner of the coaches' praise, is behind Nathan Pepper at the other spot.

Robertson leaped ahead of supposed starter Jordin Lindsey when Lindsey's academic status was questioned. Matthews, who enrolled in the fall but was already reputed for his work ethic and talent, earned the No. 2 spot at end behind returnee Eric Norwood.

Also earning kudos were Clifton Geathers, another early enrollee who plays end and is blessed with good bloodlines. The brother of Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Robert Geathers and the nephew of former All-Pro Jumpy Geathers, Clifton came to USC after a season at Hargrave (Va.) Military Academy as part of a package deal with Ajiboye.

"I know he gets pushed at home," Lawing said. "I think he feels a lot of pressure on him to do well just to live up to what his family has done."

Geathers agreed.

"Really, I can go home every weekend, but I really like Columbia, so I don't go home that much," Geathers said. "I think getting to do things earlier instead of coming in, jumping in, having a big rush thing, is much better."

Robertson said he was looking forward to the first game action after an extended session of practice and conditioning. Unlike Williams, a junior-college transfer, Robertson is playing Louisiana-Lafayette with his last game experience being in high school.

"The tempo of the game is pretty fast; I'm trying to get used to it," he said. "Because defensive schemes and different things are a whole lot different."

Lawing said the plan is simple -- start the most experienced guys and get the newbies as much game action as he can. Although he can only tell so much from practice and film, he feels confident the group will be the foundation USC needs to be competitive defensively.

"It's good where you sit there on the sideline and go, 'Oh, my God ...' and then you're going 'Great job!,'" Lawing said, breaking into applause. "These guys are a treat to coach."