COLUMBIA, SC — Jonathan Walton knows a thing or two about change.
Born and raised in Alabama, he moved more than 500 miles away to come to South Carolina over pressure to stay home and play 220 miles away at Auburn.
There's less pressure this spring in a position change from middle (Mike) to weakside (Will) linebacker, a move Walton says puts him in place to make a bigger impact this season.
"Will is way funner than Mike," Walton said. "Now that I'm a year into it, I am more comfortable. Will is easier for me to learn."
Walton is one spot higher on the depth chart, currently backing up fellow sophomore Skai Moore at the weakside spot. He ended last season third in the middle behind Kaiwan Lewis and T.J. Holloman.
While having to call out formations and communicate defensive changes proved to be a challenge as a newcomer, playing the Mike spot made it easier to learn his new role at Will.
"It's basically making a step down and not having as much responsibility," he said. "Being able to do that for a year and having that much pressure, that made it a lot easier to learn."
The 6-foot, 237-pound Walton is also getting reps as a Bob - a Big Ol Backer - utilized like an outside linebacker in the Gamecocks' 3-4 scheme as an athlete who can rush the quarterback and cover a lot of ground out in space.
"We've thrown him out there just a little bit," linebackers coach Kirk Botkin said. "He's got a little wiggle and pass-rush ability that's pretty dang good."
Walton had eight tackles and played in all 13 games last season. Like Lewis a year earlier, he avoided a redshirt while getting his feet wet playing primarily on special teams.
He also gained valuable experience playing in road venues such as Neyland Stadium in Tennessee and Sanford Stadium in Georgia, Botkin said.
"That's our philosophy. They're young and they can helps us grow on special teams," Botkins said. "They've played in venues with large crowds, and that's a good deal. Any time they're getting their feet wet doing that, it only helps them."
Walton was happy to see early action, even if his snaps at linebacker were limited.
"I wasn't comfortable enough with the defense for the coaches to put me in," Walton said. "They still got me some work in to get comfortable for this season."
Walton's comfort level has grown with the linebacker rotation and his duties at the weakside spot. He has also settled into his new life in Columbia, even if it's far from home.
"I got a little homesick," he said. "It was different weather-wise. The people were great. I came here for a reason and it felt great. I fit in pretty well."