COLUMBIA – Ask University of South Carolina running backs Brandon Wilds and David Williams to name their specialty, and each speaks to their lack of one.
“We’re all pretty much well-rounded,” Wilds said.
“Being able to be versatile,” Williams said.
So while both should see a lot of action during the 2015 football season, don’t expect the tandem to become a “thunder and lightning” or “Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside” combo in which one specializes in power while the other brings the speed. It’s a prospect that doesn’t bother running backs coach Everette Sands.
“It’s easier,” Sands said. “The perfect situation is two guys where I don’t have to think about what the situation is. Both of them can run. Both have good speed. And both can do everything that I’m looking for out of the backfield.”
Wilds came off the bench as a freshman in 2011 to replace an injured Marcus Lattimore. He returns for a fifth season having amassed 1,277 rushing yards in his USC career but feels little nostalgia toward his last go-around.
“It’s a little bit past that stage,” he said. “I’ve been here since (Steven) Garcia was here.”
Williams gained 256 yards as a freshman in 2014 and is ready to assume a larger role with Mike Davis having departed for the NFL.
“Now I know what to expect, and I’m trying to get better mentally,” he said. “My summer went great. I got bigger, stronger and faster.”
Both are big by tailback standards — Wilds is 6-foot-2 and 216 pounds, Williams 6-1, 214. Both have breakaway speed and can catch the ball. Coach Steve Spurrier had kind words for several USC running backs.
“They’re all very healthy right now — Brandon Wilds, David Williams — and those young guys are looking pretty good — Mon Denson and A.J. Turner,” he said. “And a couple of the walk-on players — Darius Paulk and Rod Talley — are very good players also.”
Paulk and Talley’s performances as runners and special teams performers recently earned them full scholarships. Denson and Turner, meanwhile, are receiving tutelage from the veterans, which is something new for Williams.
“It’s kind of weird,” he said. “Sometimes the freshmen go out on the field and you’ve got to tell them the play and they’re looking back at you and I’m not paying attention and I’ve got to hurry up and run out there and tell them the play. That helps me because I’m going over the plays mentally and learning the signals.”
“The best way to learn something is to teach somebody else,” he said.
Wilds, Williams and senior tailback Shon Carson become particularly important when the Gamecocks split into groups and practice on two fields simultaneously.
“I can’t be with everybody at the same time,” Sands said. “Some of those guys have to rely on them and ask them what’s going on. I think that definitely helps them understand the whole picture.”
Carson said he likes the two-field practices.
“The running backs aren’t just sitting around and watching,” he said. “I’ve been here five years and I know the playbook like the back of my hand, so I can help them out.”
Talley redshirted in 2014 after transferring from Gardner-Webb University. He said it took him about a semester to learn the playbook and he no longer has to ask for help.
“At this point, I’m answering questions,” he said. “It was like a different language at first, but now everything’s clicking.”
Wilds said it’s fun being part of a large, talented group of backs.
“They all bring something different to the table and they all come from different parts of the world but come together as one,” he said.
The Gamecocks may need to lean on their running backs while young receivers and quarterbacks gain experience, so their versatility and depth could be critical for USC’s success in 2015.