- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Had Miami not been so slow to pull the trigger during the recruiting process, Skai Moore admits that he'd be a Hurricane right now.
“I grew up a Canes fan my whole life. That was my dream school,” Moore said.
Dreams die hard, although in Moore's case, he's anything but crushed. Not after a dream debut season at South Carolina and what should be an even better sophomore season.
He led the Gamecocks in total tackles (56) and interceptions (four) last season as a true freshman and did so without the benefit of spring practice. Even though he always seemed to be around the ball, Moore said he was in third gear more times than not because he was still acclimating himself to the college game.
“I'll be able to play a lot faster,” Moore said. “Last year, I was really just focusing more on not messing up and thinking a little too much out there and didn't know where my help was coming from. Now, it's almost like high school. I have the scheme down. I know where my help is coming from, and it's slowing down for me. I'm able to anticipate better.”
Already perched among the most promising young linebackers in college football, Moore will see his role expand in South Carolina's defense. He played in all 13 games a year ago, but started in only four.
In fact, the Gamecocks entered last season without a single linebacker who had ever started a college game.
Now, all of a sudden, they're brimming with experience, depth and talent at linebacker, so much so that they plan to utilize a 3-4 look some on defense to get their playmakers on the field.
Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward thinks he has nine players, counting the hybrid spur position, who are ready to play at linebacker.
And with Jadeveon Clowney now doing his thing in the NFL, the Gamecocks will mix it up a little more after playing primarily out of a 4-2-5 base the last few years.
“We don't have a great pass-rusher, per se, on the team that has proven himself,” Ward said. “We have some guys who can be, but they haven't proven themselves. Until they do prove themselves, we have to take advantage of bringing linebackers and doing some different things to create pressure.
“Overall, they're our most experienced group even though they're young. They all had to play last year.”
Moore will line up on the weak side and will be backed up by fellow true sophomore Jonathan Walton. Redshirt sophomore T.J. Holloman and junior Kaiwan Lewis are working in the middle, while senior Sharrod Golightly and redshirt sophomore Jordan Diggs are the two spurs.
That fourth linebacker spot could be manned by sophomore Larenz Bryant or true freshman Bryson Allen-Williams, while redshirt sophomore Marcquis Roberts is versatile enough to play a couple of different spots.
“We're two deep with a lot of talent, and we're not going to have any drop-off when we rotate linebackers,” Moore said.
Since arriving on campus last summer, the 6-foot-2 Moore has bulked up 15 pounds and plans on playing right around 220 this season. That's not counting the additional weight of the chip he still carries on his shoulder from being spurned by all the Florida schools out of high school.
Moore helped lead his University School team in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to an unbeaten season and the Class 3A state championship. But neither Florida nor Florida State recruited him, and Miami waited until the night before signing day to extend an offer.
“It was too late by then,” Moore said. “I don't know what they were waiting on.”
South Carolina didn't get involved with Moore until that December, and defensive backs coach Grady Brown was the point man in flipping Moore to the Gamecocks after he had initially committed to Rutgers.
“I developed a great relationship with Coach Brown,” Moore said. “He told me to be sure and watch their bowl game. I watched it, came on a visit here (in January) and loved it.
“It all worked out the way it was supposed to, but I still feel like I have something to prove. A lot of schools overlooked me, a lot of schools from my state. I want to make sure they know what they're missing out on every time I go out there.”