Mack Brings Intensity, Leadership

From the moment Eric Wolford arrived at USC in January, he made premier in-state OL prospects Eric Mack and A.J. Cann his top priorities. With Cann already committed, Wolford's hard work personally recruiting the two prospects paid off for the second time when Mack committed to the Gamecocks last week. Read inside as Calhoun County head coach Walt Wilson discusses what Mack will bring to USC.

"I remember the first time we both met Coach Wolford," Wilson recalls. "It was when Wolford just got in town. He spoke with Mack and immediately Mack said, ‘Coach, I like him; he kind of reminds me of you.' He was like, ‘I'll be honest with you. Coach Wolford, I think I really need to consider some things with Carolina,' just after meeting Wolford that one time. It was just like an automatic connection."

And from that first connection a relationship was eventually formed. With Mack as his top priority, along with fellow in-state offensive line prospect Cann, Wolford pulled out all the stops recruiting the nation's No. 5 best guard according to

"He made that clear. He came in and said, ‘I don't recruit this area but I'm going to recruit Eric Mack,'" Wilson said. "He made that a priority, ‘We must get these kids.' And you know it's not often that you can come into a state and have two nationally ranked offensive linemen right in your own backyard. And he accepted the challenge, and he went head first. And both of them paid off to the point that he accomplished his goal. And that's just the kind of guy that Coach Wolford is. And that says a lot right there; that's that ‘go-get-it' that you want your kid to play for in a coach. And that kid sees that."

But that's not all Mack saw in Wolford. While it was always clear he wanted Mack to play on his line, Wilson says that the majority of the conversations the two had were not about football at all, but about Mack's personal life as Wolford took a vested interest in his day-to-day activities.

As a former lineman himself, and current offensive line coach, Wilson says that a lineman has to have a special bond with his coach. And that's what Mack found with Wolford.

"Any kind of lineman," Wilson says, "is kind of different than those receivers or running backs or quarterbacks. I don't know maybe quarterbacks fall into that group, but they've got to know that they want to play for somebody they'll die for. That's what a lineman is. And being a former lineman myself, I know that. It's just something about it, you've got to have that connection with that coach that you're going to play for. And you've got to feel that going both ways. ‘Will this coach put it on the line for me? Because I know I'll put it on the line for him.' That's what came across with Eric Mack."

While Mack and Wolford have formed a great relationship, the other side of coaching the line is knowing when to be tough on a player according to Wilson. Wolford is arguably the Gamecocks' most intense coach and both Wilson and Mack believe he knows when to be hard on his players.

"(Mack) said (Wolford) kind of reminds him of me in the fact that I'm going to stay on him," Wilson said. "And I'm going to keep it real with you, and Coach Wolford is going to do the same thing. He doesn't sugarcoat it. He does what a coach is supposed to do and that's give you what you need at that time. And sometimes you don't need that figure that's just babying you up. Sometimes you need (someone to be hard on you). And Coach Wolford is that kind, the same way I am. But you can't do that unless the kid legitimately knows you care. I think he feels that Coach Wolford cares for the whole Mack, not just the football Mack."

But Wolford obviously coveted the football Mack as well. What Wolford will be getting in Mack is a 6-3, 328-pound hard-nosed, mauler who enjoys pounding the opposition into the ground. While nimble for his size and what Wilson likes to call "home-grown" strong, what really makes Mack stand out his tenacity and intensity, two things that made Wolford the player he was and the coach he is today. Not coincidentally, those are also two things the Gamecock offensive line has been missing in recent years.

"He's a real interesting person to the fact that off the field he is a different person," Wilson says. "But then on the field he turns that switch on. I've been in it with him to the point with him that I had to calm him down, he was (mad) at the ref. I mean he was (mad) to the fact that I was kind of scared for the ref. That's just how intense he gets sometimes. Once that switch gets turned on… it's not too nice."

While not too nice for the opposition, it could prove to be oh too nice for Wolford. In his first spring with South Carolina, Wolford critiized his offensive line's effort and inability to finish blocks at times. With many upperclassmen on the roster who have yet to make contributions, very few underclassmen, and the always-real chance of transfers at the position, Wilson believes Mack will begin making a contribution sooner rather than later.

"Coach Wolford in the past has always played young linemen," Wilson says. "And then those young linemen have turned out pretty good. I don't see how Mack will be any different. Coach Wolford develops them over that summer coming up to that playing date. I'll be honest with you, I'm not going to say I think Mack will start next year, but I know Mack is going to play. Mack is going to play there next year. I don't know how many games; I don't know when he's going to be ready, but I know he's going to play. His freshman year here, I really didn't plan to play Mack (until game six or so). Mack ended up starting game two and has never been out of the lineup since. And that's just the kind of kid Mack is."

While Mack has made his impact in the lineup at tackle during that time, he will have the luxury of playing his more natural position of guard at USC. In Wolford's zone blocking scheme, Mack will simply be asked to block the gap assigned on the particular play. He also will not have to worry about speed rushers to the outside like he would at tackle. Wilson says he is looking forward to seeing how Mack develops there.

"Unfortunately, we don't have that luxury; I have to put him out at tackle," he says. "But [getting him to] that interior, that's scary. I've seen this kid go against the best players at these camps and whatnot. At guard, he's unstoppable. There's just a tremendous upside to him. And with the combination of him and Coach Wolford, the sky's the limit. And Mack said himself, he feels Coach Wolford can develop him the way he wants to be developed…."

But don't expect Mack to wait until next summer with Wolford to begin developing for the college game. In a recent interview with, Mack said he was actually working out this summer for the first time in his life and the results are already there.

"He didn't lie," Wilson said of Mack's comments. "That's another part. What you guys have seen from the junior and sophomore year is not Mack what he is right now. He's benching about 350 (pounds) right now, and he's working on the legs…. And the thing about it is the coaches have noticed the difference between this year and last year as far as how he looks physically. That's a testament to how hard he's been working. He told me the other day, ‘Coach, I've been dropping weight for one (reason). I have been eating all those starches, all that bread. I've figured out I was eating a lot of breads.' The kid right now is focused on being the best he can be, and that's real interesting."

Wilson says there is also always the possibility Mack could grow in height as well. While at his current height of 6-3, he may be better suited for guard, if he adds a couple of inches to that massive frame, the versatile lineman could slide out to tackle, or would at least be available to in a pinch.

"I really think he might end up being about 6-5.5 or 6-6, I really feel that," Wilson says. "But he's still growing. So, you never know. He's versatile enough to kick out at that tackle. So, that's the beauty of it. I've seen him at tackle a little bit at some of these camps, and one thing he's going to have to do is work on protecting that A-gap inside burst. And he'll be fine. That's just work there. They got a great steal [in Mack]. I really feel that their program is headed in the right direction."

Wilson says Mack has undoubtedly helped his program at Calhoun County move in the right direction. Wilson and Wolford will undoubtedly be hoping Mack helps do the same for the Gamecock offensive line.

"He's brought leadership," Wilson says. "Basically, he's like a gel that holds a lot of things together. He's like our glue. This will be his fourth year in the program. He came in my first year. He's been there as long as I've been there. So he's kind of a special kid to me as you can tell."

A special kid with tons of upside according to Wilson.

"The thing about it is he's going to get a lot better. That's the scary part."

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