Roland ready now

Shaq Roland may be a freshman, but he hasn't played like it in fall camp. South Carolina's "Mr. Football" from last year has been turning heads since his arrival over the summer and will get on the field for the first time in the season opener against Vanderbilt.

From the time he first stepped foot onto the Proving Grounds, he has made plays. He has caught the deep ball, caught balls in traffic, and has outjumped defenders to catch the ball.

Meet Shaq Roland.

The "Mr. Football" winner as the best player in the state of South Carolina, Roland has entered the college game and has picked up right where he left off in high school.

"He's a natural," quarterback Connor Shaw said. "You can just loft it up to him when he has one-on-one coverage and usually he'll go up there and get the ball."

Roland did that in high school with nearly 2,000 yards and 24 touchdowns, but this is college. It's a whole new ball game. Roland had to prove, and still has to prove, that he can make those plays in college. So far he has done just that.

"Just showing that I can come out here and make plays is the biggest thing," Roland said. "I can make plays and be a deep ball threat and I think that's the biggest key."

Carolina has several proven deep ball threats in Ace Sanders, Bruce Ellington and Damiere Byrd. However, Byrd and Ellington are just 5'9 and Sanders is 5'8. Roland is 6'1 so he provides a deep ball threat with size. What he has that no one currently on the roster possesses is the ability to go up and get the ball, much like Alshon Jeffery did. That ability should allow Roland to get on the field in his first game.

"I'm sure I'm going to get in," Roland said. "I don't know how many snaps I'm going to play, but whenever I'm in there I'm going to try my best.

"I know my plays and formations and I think I'm well-prepared. I'm ready for the game."

While the Lexington native has played in front of large crowds throughout his high school career, he has never played in front of 40,000+ fans on national television. He will have to shake the jitters early to become an effective piece of the game plan.

"It's going to be very exciting," Roland said. "I'm sure when I step out there I'm going to have a little nerves, but as the game goes along I'll calm down and just settle in."

As a freshman Roland has been learning from the older guys. Many young receivers struggle with the physicality of cornerbacks. Defensive backs are stronger and much bigger and when they get on the line of scrimmage for bump-and-run coverages, receivers struggle to get free and run their route properly. That is especially hard on receivers when they are running timing routes, something Steve Spurrier's offense likes to do. Fortunately for Roland, he has learned from the experience receivers that Vanderbilt doesn't play a physical style of coverage.

"We talked about how the corners are going to play," Roland said. "They play a lot of off-man and don't press too much."

The sky is the limit for Roland. The journey begins Thursday night.

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