Everette Sands knows that he could not have picked a better time to land in the South Carolina football program.
The new running backs coach inherits a stable of top-notch players at his position. Sands, who came to Columbia after one season in the same role at N.C. State, smiles when he discusses his players.
Im blessed because I have a group of great guys as far as just being people. Theyre also great players, he said. We have guys who have played in a good amount of games, so its a good and deep unit right now.
The tailback position is led by junior Marcus Lattimore, a Heisman Trophy candidate who has gained 2,015 rushing yards and scored 30 touchdowns in 20 career games. His 2011 season was cut short after seven games due to a knee injury, but he is expected to be at full-speed entering this season.
A healthy Lattimore, who also has caught 48 passes for 594 yards in his career, draws the focus of opposing defenses and helps take pressure off quarterback Connor Shaw. Sands cant wait to watch the 6-foot, 218-pound Lattimore up-close.
Marcus has got an opportunity to truly be one of the greats. Theres no doubt in my mind, Sands said. He has the ability to break tackles. Hes a hard-nosed runner. He runs low to the ground. He has good vision. And the first guy is usually not going to bring him down.
But the Gamecocks proved last season that the offense will not ground to a halt without Lattimore. They won five of their final six games without him, including a 30-13 victory over Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl to finish 11-2.
Brandon Wilds, who enters his sophomore season, stepped in and posted 100-yard rushing games against Tennessee, Florida, and The Citadel. Kenny Miles, who returns for a senior season, stepped up with big games in the season-ending wins against Clemson and Nebraska.
Sands hopes what those players did a year ago will keep everyone focused this season on being prepared to play, even if Lattimore is slated to get the bulk of the carries.
You can easily point to last year and say, Hey, youve got to be ready because you dont know, Sands said. Those guys were ready last year, and I think its a testament to their character.
Miles, who gained 204 yards last season, and Wilds, who piled up 486 yards, fill in the depth chart at tailback right behind Lattimore. But Shon Carson, a freshman who redshirted last season after suffering his own season-ending knee injury against Georgia, and Mike Davis, one of the most highly rated freshmen in this years incoming class, also could factor into the mix for playing time.
The battle will be an intense one, but Sands likes having the competition because it makes all of his players work harder at improving.
Im going to let the guys determine whos going to be the next guy (after Lattimore), Sands said.
You must be consistently good in order to be great. Youve got to be good day-in and day-out. The guys who are going to be consistently good at things without the ball in their hands whether its receiving or blocking will be the ones taken into consideration in getting the most reps.
Sands, the second-leading rusher in The Citadels history during his playing career (1990-93), said its better to have too much talent than not enough over the long haul of a grueling SEC season.
Every day, youre going to do one of two things: Youre going to get better, or youre going to get worse. My goal is for everybody to get better, he said. If everybody is constantly getting better, then were going to have a great unit.