When tailback Marcus Lattimores season ended prematurely with a knee injury a year ago, the South Carolina football team continued to win with Kenny Miles filling in.
With his teammate out again, Miles knows exactly what he must do.
Im definitely ready to step up for my team, to do what it takes to win, he said. You cant replace a guy like Marcus and what he does on the field. But were ready to go out and finish the season strong.
Miles, a 5-foot-9, 193-pound senior from Lawrenceville, Ga., has the experience to make good things happen. Although he didnt start last seasons 34-13 win over Clemson, he rushed for 71 yards on 21 carries. When he got his first start of the season against Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl, he responded with 67 yards on 15 carries, including one touchdown, and caught two passes for 13 yards and another score.
Now its up to him, freshman Mike Davis and sophomore Brandon Wilds to take charge of the rushing attack for the final three regular-season games against Arkansas, Wofford and Clemson. While Miles concedes that its a tough situation to make up for the loss of Lattimore, he believes the tailbacks and the team are up to the challenge.
Were definitely out here practicing every day. The plays havent changed. Well be ready to play when its time to go, Miles said.
Weve still got the pieces, still got the people, still got the coaches, and were all focused.
USC coach Steve Spurrier shares that belief. He understands that his team must look forward.
Weve got to move on. These guys have a good outlook and good attitude about it. Time can heal a lot of wounds, he said.
And Spurrier remains confident in his other tailbacks, although he realizes players like Lattimore are rare.
Weve got three ready to play, but nobody plays as well as Marcus though, Spurrier said. Hes the best running back in the country. Its a shame.
Miles, who has become good friends with Lattimore in their three seasons together, visited with Lattimore at the hospital after the injury to support his teammate.
He was in a pretty good mood. We didnt talk about football at all, Miles said. We talked about everyday life type stuff, like how your family is doing.
Miles also was one of two players quarterback Dylan Thompson was the other to speak at Mondays rally on the Horseshoe to celebrate Lattimores birthday and offer get-well wishes. He spoke from the heart and liked how USC fans and students supported his friend.
It means a lot to you for people to come out there and really show that kind of respect and love for him, Miles said.
As he gets closer to the end of his career, Miles looks back with no regrets. He started seven of 13 games as a freshman while rushing for a team-high 626 yards. But his opportunity to be the featured back vanished when Lattimore walked on campus. So he has focused on making his mark as a spot-duty tailback and special-teams contributor, declining to transfer to another program.
Im more mature. Im a little more patient when I run. I hit the holes when I see them, and I try to read my blocking as best I can, he said. I feel like my receiving game has improved tremendously. Ive really worked on my hands these past few years. Overall, Im a much better player than I was my first year.
And now hes a starter again in the final go-around.
It is very eventful, but I wouldnt have it any other way. I dont like boring. It has been high times and low times, but in all in all it has been good times. Its a blessing to be here, he said.