Jimmy Legree has one more chance at South Carolina to live up to his potential and become a breakout star.
Two years ago, Legree earned high praise in the spring and fall on his way to earning the starting nod at free safety. He started the first two games but found himself foundering on the depth chart as the season wore on. He mostly saw time on special teams late in the year.
Last season, he made the move to cornerback, his natural position. He started eight games and tied for the team lead with three interceptions, but his inconsistency again left him in and out of the lineup late in the season.
With Victor Hampton penciled in to start at one corner, Legree hopes to find the confidence and consistency to be an every down player this season.
“I still have a lot of things to improve on, mainly a bunch of small stuff,” Legree said. “I’m not where I need to be, but I think I’m improving every day. As the season went on last year, I gained more confidence in myself.”
Legree had key interceptions in games against LSU and Michigan and returned his first career pick for a 34-yard touchdown against East Carolina. Being a playmaker hasn’t been the issue. Defensive back coach Grady Brown says consistency is the key.
“There are some things he needs to work on but he has made quite a few plays,” Brown said. Hopefully we can keep him going in the right direction and he’ll have a great year.”
But Brown agreed Legree still has many things to work on.
“Jimmy and I talk about being consistently good,” Brown said. “He was really good at times last year, and other times he wasn’t. You don’t want a big drop-off. If you can be a really good player, then your bad should be good. He’s blessed with a lot of ability and he’s played a lot of football. It’s his focus. If you ask him what we’ve talked about, he’ll talk about focusing and being ready to play and compete every time they snap the ball.”
Legree has gotten a lot of repetitions this spring for several reasons. Junior college transfer Ronnie Martin was expected to challenge for one of the cornerback spots, but he’s been nursing a hamstring injury that has kept him out most of the spring.
Ahmad Christian is with the baseball team, and Rico Williams still is recovering from a knee injury he suffered last season. That has left Legree and Hampton with a bulk of the work.
While Hampton is considered the best cover corner, Legree has made his fair share of plays and been in on several pass breakups in the 7-on-7 and full team portions of practice.
“Jimmy has been good,” defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said. “He’s gained a lot more confidence. He has ability — he just hasn’t played with confidence all the time. He’s doing well.”
Legree understands this is his last chance to showcase his talent if he hopes to have an NFL career. He also understands he his one of only four scholarship seniors on the roster full of potential but short on upperclassmen. He and fellow seniors Ronald Patrick, Connor Shaw and Chaz Sutton have to be leaders if the Gamecocks hope to continue the trend that saw them win 22 games over the past two seasons.
“This is our team,” Legree said. “We all have to be leaders and make it count. We lost significant leaders from last year, and we have all pulled together. We have things going in the right direction around here, and we just want to keep it going under our watch.”