Countdown note: GoGamecocks Josh Kendall, David Cloninger and Dwayne McLemore each ranked the 10 players most important to South Carolinas defense in 2014. We took their predictions, compiled a composite list and are revealing it one player a day through July 2. (This is not a ranking of the teams best players -- its our rank of the players who are most vital to the teams success.)
8. Kaiwan Lewis
A season ago, the linebackers were a concern after graduating the top four from that spot. That left a young group that had to grow up quickly and by the end of the season, they no longer were a liability.
Kaiwan Lewis and T.J. Holloman combined to bring stability to the middle linebacker spot in 2013. Lewis, a junior, is the projected starter there again this season.
The 6-foot, 235-pound Lewis stayed busy in 2013, finishing third with 54 tackles, including four tackles for loss and one sack. He also intercepted two passes, forced a fumble and had a fumble recovery.
Lewis led the team at the Capital One Bowl with nine stops, recovered a fumble and intercepted a pass.
Kaiwan Lewis is a between-the-tackles guy, linebackers coach Kirk Botkin said. Thats what he does. Hes young, but hes doing a really good job of trying to be a leader. Day in and day out, he doesnt mind the pounding. As a linebacker, you have to come out here and want to hit people.
Best-case scenario: Lewis remains one of the most productive defensive players and leads the now-experienced linebacker corps to another solid season. He is another star in the making and will helm the middle and back up a learning defensive line.
Stats: Has made 10 career starts. ... 57 total tackles ... Played mostly special teams as a true freshman in 2012.