It hasn't been as smooth as it was for other freshmen - say, Jadeveon Clowney - but freshman defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles is starting to get it. The Hodges, S.C. native has climbed his way up the depth chart to put himself in a position where "he's pushing to start," according to defensive line coach Brad Lawing.
Quarles says it all began to click during the Georgia game. It was in Athens where he was first able to shrug off the nerves and play football as its meant to be played - like a game.
"That's the mindset I have to have - It's football wherever you go," Quarles said. "I was kind of nervous at first to really play like I used to play and really go and run people down and make plays, but now I see that it gets you production in this league and it gets you where you want to be."
Quarles spent a year at Fork Union Military Academy before enrolling at Carolina this year. Even so, it was a challenge making the transition to playing in the Southeastern Conference.
"After that [Georgia] week I just put all that, coach wants to call it 'High School Harry' stuff off, and started going out and playing ball, going back to that physical and emotional person I used to be on that field. Its just really getting my mind used to the college level and forgetting all that high school, prep school stuff."
As Quarles' role in the defense grows every week and the Gamecocks are thrust into a heated divisional race, one thing that No. 99 will never lack is motivation.
"Since I'm here now and actually contributing, it makes me want to go out and work harder," Quarles said. "You lift and you run, and that's the only thing you think about."
The thought of helping the Gamecocks win football games fuels Quarles' fire inside the classroom.
"I make sure I do everything in the classroom so I make sure I'm on that plane, I'm on that bus, going to Tennessee going wherever we have to go so I can play ball and contribute to this team," Quarles said. "I know and I believe we can win the SEC East."
From "High School Harry" to "College Kelcy"
But in addition to his relentless motor, Kelcy has another leg up in making the acclimation to SEC football and developing into a playmaker.
He's not the only Quarles to wear Garnet and Black. His father, Buddy Quarles, played four years of offensive lineman for the Gamecocks from 1984-87.
Now, he's the first one Kelsey talks to after games, criticizing and scrutinizing his every move to help his son become the best football player he can be.
The perspective his dad provides him with, being a former offensive lineman, Kelsey believes is information he's "not even supposed to know".
"He just tells me every week, the man out there has a heart just like you have one, so you just hit him and he'll hit you and it's gonna be a battle the whole game. It's not going to be this high school stuff."
"I really thank God my dad played college ball because he told me the things I need to get used to."
When asked about his rapidly maturing freshman, Brad Lawing wasn't short on compliments. An interesting metaphor stood out above all the flattering words.
"I put a lot of stock into guys that can make plays. There's block-gobblers, and there's playmakers," Lawing said. There's farmers that depend on rain and sun for food, and there's hunters that go hunt down their food."
It's become clear that Kelcy is the latter.
Quarles is a hunter
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