Gamecocks' coach Torrian Gray reconstructs another dynamic secondary

COLUMBIA — Cam Smith and Darius Rush will be on NFL fields this season. There was concern with them leaving, as there should have been, befitting a duo that nabbed three of South Carolina’s 15 interceptions last year. Smith was a player so respected that opponents didn’t much dare to throw to his side of the field.
“What in the world are they going to do at corner?,” wondered many.
Torrian Gray was unfazed.
Before the 2022 season, it was, “What in the world are they going to do at safety?” and the assistant coach debuted two true freshmen, Nick Emmanwori and DQ Smith, who just may be the best safety tandem in the country this year.
Before the 2021 season, it was, “What in the world are they going to do in the secondary?” after losing Jaycee Horn, Jaylin Dickerson and Jammie Robinson. Gray unveiled Jaylan Foster and Carlins Platel.
“What I love about our guys is their flexibility,” South Carolina’s third-year defensive backs coach said. “They can play everything.”
That's due to Gray. As head coach Shane Beamer says, he can walk into the DB room any time of day and the whiteboard at the front has more scrawling on it than Russell Crowe’s office in “A Beautiful Mind.”
Foster was a walk-on who became an All-American under Gray’s watch. Platel went to the NFL and then the USFL.
Gray replaced those two with Emmanwori and Smith, then saw Smith and Rush depart for pro football. He has Marcellas Dial and O’Donnell Fortune, each of whom played vital roles last season, ready to step in.
“Me and Cell, we got a bigger role now. We have the younger guys coming in, looking up to us, they’re watching us, seeing what we’re doing,” said Fortune, who capped his 2022 season with a 100-yard interception return for a touchdown in the Gator Bowl, the longest play in the bowl’s history. “It’s big for us to lead them into the right decision, the right way.”
Gamecocks hope to use Clemson, Tennessee wins as springboard into 2023
Fortune had the big play in the bowl game and finished by being escorted into the end zone by Dial, who had an outstanding season in his own right. He intercepted a team-high three passes and also led the Gamecocks with 12 pass breakups.
Their excellence stabilized a unit that was again one of the SEC’s best in takeaways, tying for second in the league with 23, and that was with the two rookies at safety. Emmanwori and Smith were learning on the job and did well, but Gray has come too far to let them rest on the successes of just one season.
“What’s special about DQ is his consistency. He has a steady demeanor about himself, and that’s how he plays,” Gray said. “I just think Nick tries so hard to maximize his talent. He knows he was a little up and down last year. That’s really what excites Nick, to make it a flat line.”
Dial, Fortune, Emmanwori and Smith stand to start as preseason practice begins, with David Spaulding returning from injury to helm nickel. But the list of available talent is long.
B.J. Gibson, Isaiah Norris Kajuan Banks, Emory Floyd, Keenan Nelson and Peyton Williams have played. Judge Collier, Jalon Kilgore, Zahbari Sandy and Vicari Swain are freshmen. Deangelo Gibbs, a former five-star prospect, is in camp as a low-risk, high-reward player.
“The question is going to be, ‘Who’s going to play behind those guys?,’” Gray said. “That’s where we really got to get better in camp, to find out who those guys are going to be.”
All are under Gray’s tutelage, with a track record that glows. If the Gamecocks’ defensive backs want to progress to the next level, the proof is pasted all over the room.
“He’s a hard coach,” Dial said. “He don’t let you cheat yourself. He makes sure that you’re disciplined.”

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