While Jadeveon Clowney earned the most recognition of the young defensive linemen in the 2011 season, another true freshman quietly put together a solid season for South Carolina. Kelcy Quarles began to catch the eye of defensive line coach Brad Lawing throughout the fall. Quarles played in all but one game last season, including the starting position alongside Travian Robertson at the tackle position the final six games of the season.
"That's why I moved him into a starter's role; because his production is higher," Lawing said. "I put a lot of stock in production and he was making plays and kept making plays."
Quarles put in a productive season in 2011, totaling 28 tackles. He did not record a sack, but was credited with four quarterback hurries.
"I just felt like I was coming into my own," Quarles said. "Coming from a prep school and high school you're going against guys that aren't as talented as you are and as fast as you are. I just came into my own and came out here and made plays and he came up to me in the training room one day and told me I would start. I was excited but at the same time I always know somebody is coming after these spots so I have to keep on working."
Despite a sold 2011 season there were still times where Quarles was not the player he could have been.
"When he plays with a low-pad level and uses his power he's a good player, but he has habits sometimes of standing up and when he does he's not a very good player," Lawing said.
This spring Quarles has focused on having taking a correct stance and making the right first step when exploding off the ball to keep his pad level low.
"I just come out here every day and every time I get down in my stance I think about staying low and standing right and firing off the ball," Quarles said. "I'm just continuing to rip it into my mind."
With Robertson and Melvin Ingram now gone Quarles will anchor the interior of the defensive line along with Byron Jerideau or J.T. Surratt. Redshirt freshmen Gerald Dixon, Jr. and Phillip Dukes are also making strides.
"I feel like I've done a lot better with my mindset to get better every day and be a team player," Quarles said. "I'm trying to play the role Travian (Robertson) did last year but do an even better job. I hold myself accountable; I come in early and watch film and everything and see what I can do better."
With Jerideau being the only upper classman among a group comprised of primarily sophomores and freshmen, Lawing knows it is a slow process to bring the younger guys around.
"Every day is an extra step for these young guys," Lawing said. "Like Gerald Dixon playing at end, this was his eleventh practice because he missed all of last season. I've seen improvement from every one of them from day-to-day. We just have to keep working. We've got the rest of this spring, all offseason, then we have preseason in August. They're all developing like I thought they would, but nobody has jumped up and said ‘hey, I'm a great player,' but that's expected of freshmen."
With a season in the SEC already under his belt that earned him national honors, Quarles is ready to take the next step and become a cog up the middle for a defensive line that should still be one of the best in the country.
"I feel like this year is going to be a breakout season for me," Quarles said. "I know I started a couple of games last year but that was just the tip of the iceberg. I still have to get better."
Quarles looking for breakout season
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