After quiet start to career, Roland ready for sophomore breakout

jkendall@thestate.comMarch 30, 2013 

Shaq Roland looks fast again.

It was speed and elusiveness that made him South Carolina’s Mr. Football at Lexington High and a four-star recruiting prospect, but Roland didn’t look like that player last season as a freshman with the Gamecocks.

“He was just a little uncomfortable, a little unsure,” USC receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. said. “Just not 100 percent sure and comfortable with everything he did, so he was a little tentative.”

Roland posted typical freshman numbers in 2012 — catching five passes for 80 yards, including a 30-yard touchdown against UAB — but as the fourth straight Mr. Football to sign with South Carolina, he was not being judged on a typical scale.

Stephon Gilmore had 56 tackles, 15 punt returns and played offense as a true freshman. Marcus Lattimore was the national freshman of the year a season later with 1,197 yards, and Jadeveon Clowney followed that up with eight sacks in his debut season.

Roland, though, needed more time to absorb the team’s playbook.

“Each week, I learned something new; the next day, they put in something new,” he said. “Coming in from high school to college is a tough transition. The speed of the game, I would say that’s the No. 1 thing, everybody is fast out here. But I think this year, I’ll be ready.”

Roland did not blame the high expectations for weighing him down last season. He has almost 2,000 yards receiving and scored 24 touchdowns in his final season at Lexington and had scholarship offers from Alabama, Florida and Georgia among others.

“I don’t buy into (expectations),” he said. “I heard it, but I don’t listen to it. I just try to do what I do.”

Roland had his best practice as a Gamecock two weeks ago, coach Steve Spurrier said, and Roland was the most frequent target in South Carolina’s Thursday evening scrimmage.

“My goal each day is to get better, and if I can continue doing that, I’ll be a good player,” Roland said. “I don’t set goals like (number of catches). If I get better every day, everything else will pan out.”

Roland is listed behind Damiere Byrd on the Gamecocks’ spring practice depth chart, but Byrd has not practiced this spring due to eye surgery and a hamstring injury, which is allowing Roland to make up ground.

“All the guys out here know Ace (Sanders) is gone,” Roland said. “A spot is open. Everybody is competing.”

Roland now knows the Gamecocks’ offense, he said, and that increased awareness had made him more like the football player USC recruited, Spurrier Jr. said.

“He’s a lot more comfortable,” Spurrier Jr. said. “He’s got a lot better understanding of what we are doing. He’s moving at the speed he can run at. He’s more comfortable, he’s relaxed, and he’s playing well. He’s moving fast, he looks like a receiver.”

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