Gurley was only option

T.J. Gurley will be making the first start of his career Saturday afternoon when seventh-ranked South Carolina hosts Missouri in an SEC showdown. Gurley will be replacing the emotional leader of the Carolina defense, D.J. Swearinger, who was suspended Monday for a helmet-to-helmet hit in Saturday's game against UAB.

When news broke that D.J. Swearinger was going to be suspended for Saturday's SEC East match-up between seventh-ranked South Carolina and Missouri, several scenarios were being tossed around as to who would replace Swearinger at safety. For the South Carolina coaches there was only one option; freshman T.J. Gurley.

"Everyone pretty much knew when we got the word about D.J.," secondary coach Grady Brown said. "T.J. is his back up."

One of the most experienced options to replace Swearinger was DeVonte Holloman, who has spent virtually his entire career at safety before moving to spur this season. As quick as that option came to mind it was shot down.

"I thought about it and brought it up to Coach Ward and Coach Botkin, and as quick as I thought about it they shot it down," Holloman said. "They told me I was a spur. It was a good thought for a minute but I'm still at spur."

Gurley has been listed as a cornerback on the roster, but Brown says that he has played at safety in the first three games except for some snaps late in Saturday's game with UAB.

"He's going to be a really good player here," Brown said. "He's not tentative, he knows what to do, and he's excited about his opportunity. He'll do well this weekend."

Gurley has often been compared to Swearinger coming out of high school in that he is physical and aggressive, so who else would Gurley turn to when he arrived on campus?

"T.J. spent a lot of time with Swearinger this summer when we couldn't spend time with those guys," Brown said. "D.J. did a good job of coaching him up and going through footwork drills and teaching him how to watch film and everything. It's been an ongoing process building that relationship."

When Swearinger spoke, Gurley listened. What Swearinger did, Gurley did with him.

"He usually just told the younger guys he was going to watch film, and I just wanted to get better so I could come in and play," Gurley said. "Every time he goes and works out or anything I just follow him."

It didn't take Gurley long to show exactly how physical he was. In the team's first scrimmage, Gurley leveled a defender and was told to hold up a little bit by head coach Steve Spurrier. In the first game of the season it was Gurley that leveled Vanderbilt quarterback Jordan Rodgers just as he released the ball on that final fourth down play that sealed the win for Carolina.

"I just play aggressive and hard," Gurley said. "My motor doesn't stop really. I just play hard all the time."

When Swearinger learned of his fate Monday morning, Gurley was one of the first people he spoke with. Swearinger has become a big brother of sorts to Gurley, much like Holloman with Jordan Diggs.

"Right after (the suspension) he told me to be ready because I might play," Gurley said. "He said we were going to watch film every day and try and get better and see what they run."

Since Swearinger is not able to get out on the field with the first unit in practice he is doing the next best thing. He has become Gurley's personal coach who is watching his every move and critiquing the freshman when he comes to the sideline.

"When I get off the field I go right to him and he tells me what to watch for," Gurley said. "He's just coaching me."

Making the first start in the fourth game of your career in front of 80,000 people in a key match-up with a conference opponent is enough to make anyone nervous. Fortunately for Gurley, he has plenty of teammates to go to for advice, including Holloman, who played every game during his freshman year at safety and made two starts.

"It's nerve-wracking but we all came here expecting to play and he's another guy that came in and really wanted to play and pushed hard for it and now he's getting a chance," Holloman said. "I'm just going to talk to him and tell him not to make it bigger than any other day. Just focus on your assignment on that play and try not to focus on the hype around starting."

Despite Swearinger's suspension, no one on the defense is going to be thinking twice when going in for a hit. All the players said they are going to do what they've always done and that's exactly what defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward wants his guys to do.

"Coach Ward said that he'll never take the aggression out of us so I don't really worry about it," Gurley said.

With the emotional leader of the defense out of the game, it will be up to the other seniors to make sure everyone is on the right page.

"D.J. did a lot more than just being a great player," linebacker Demario Jeffery said. "He was our vocal leader and was always out there making sure we were lined up correctly. Now that puts a little more pressure on us other seniors to talk a little more."

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