Gamecock Walk is a longstading tradition in the South Carolina program, and redshirt seniors Mason Zandi and T.J. Holloman strolled through Gamecock Park for the last season opener in their respective careers this past Saturday. While it was a bittersweet event for the two players, it marked the beginning of a new era in Columbia– the Will Muschamp era.
For the first time, Muschamp instituted a rule where this team would ditch the headsets and cell phones in exchange for high fives and fist bumps during Gamecock Walk, a ruling designed to help strengthen the bond between the South Carolina team and its fan base.
“I told our guys I don’t want any headsets on during Gamecock Walk,” Muschamp said. “We need to appreciate the fans and what they do for us. That’s really important to me. Those people spend a lot of time and a lot of money and energy and passion to come watch us play. We need to return that respect back, and that’s really important to me that our guys handle it the right way.”
This disciplined strategy led to a 20-15 win over East Carolina, a win powered by a stadium full of supportive fans at Williams-Brice. Muschamp stressed this fact during his postgame presser, as did Holloman and Zandi.
“We always want to go out on top, always want to give back to the school,” Holloman said. “They’ve given us so much as seniors, and now just to be able to go out there and get the win, our last fist home game and coach Muschamp’s first home game, it’s just an awesome experience.”
Zandi added his two cents right after Holloman.
“Just piggy-backing off what T.J. said, the university and the state and the city has given us so much over the past five years, and we cant say how much we appreciate that,” Zandi said. “It’s just great to go out in front of the crowd and get that first home win.”
During South Carolina’s victory over ECU, Holloman led his team with nine total tackles, seven of the unassisted variety and two assists to go along with one tackle for loss. Holloman was on the field for much of the game since the Pirates nearly rattled off triple digit plays, and the senior linebacker spoke about the response from his defensive unit.
“91 plays, that’s a lot of snaps,” Holloman said. “But, the defense handled it very well. We came out there, we are very mature. That goes to the offseason conditioning and of course our fans. We played off their energy up and that kept us going.”
Specifically, Holloman spoke about the two key interceptions snagged by the Gamecocks’ secondary when the team’s defense was backed up to its goal line, two plays that proved instrumental in South Carolina’s low-scoring win.
“Those guys, Chris and Jamarcus, made big plays,” Holloman said. “We needed those plays. They broke on the ball and read their assignments and just balled out, sp I was very happy for them to get off the field without them scoring. They did a great job.
“We just had to buckle down. When they got to the red zone when it counted, we just had to lock into our assignments, lock into our keys and just execute the game plan.”
Even from the sidelines, Zandi is able to recognize the resilience of this year’s South Carolina defense.
“I see a defense that doesn’t give up,” Zandi said. “We feed off them like they feed off us. It was amazing to see them drive the ball, but they could not cross that pylon. The defense did a heck of a job today.”
The Gamecocks’ defense will have to thrive next week as it travels to Kentucky, a team that appears to have found a hot hand at quarterback in Stephen Johnson.
“Its definitely going to be a challenge,” Holloman said. “Every road game in the SEC is always a challenge. Regarding Kentucky, they are a really good ball team, it’s a night game and its going to take a lot for us to get over this win, the 24 hour rule, get over it and prepare like we did last week. Just lock in and focus in to our assignments.”
The two teams square off this Saturday in Lexington at 7:30 p.m.