COLUMBIA – Heading toward this season, Bobby Bentley knows what he has in his running backs meeting room. Almost every back has played under him at least two seasons and know how to play the position.
Now Bentley is looking for someone to take the next step.
"We want a dominant person to step up,” he said. “Someone’s got to step up, get the first down on third-and-two when everybody in the stands, including my wife, knows we’re going to carry the ball to get the first down.”
The Gamecocks return five backs that had at least one carry last season: Rico Dowdle, Mon Denson, A.J. Turner, Ty’Son Williams and Caleb Kinlaw. All are vying to be the feature back.
That comes from what Bentley calls “feeding the good wolf” and competing in the meeting room, weight room, in life and on the practice field.
He said there’s even a win-loss column in the meeting room to stress just how important it is for the leader of the group to take off-the-field work seriously.
The coach is not sure which guy will take it yet, but he wants someone to separate themselves by the end of spring practice, heading into preseason workouts.
“Right now all those guys are fighting to be that person,” Bentley said. “Who’s going to be the cock of the walk?
"Who’s going to be that domineering person in that room?”
Bentley knows a good team usually has a stable of two, three and sometimes four running backs it can rely on. But he wants one guy to take the reins and be the go-to guy on this year’s team.
The Gamecocks will rotate this year. But Bentley needs that star, dominant back who’s going to pick up yards even when the defense knows he’s going to get the ball.
“You have to have another guy to fill in, but I don’t want to rotate for the sake of, ‘hey, we’re rotating,”’ he said. “I want someone to step up and be the guy that everybody in the stands knows that he’s going to get the ball on third-and-two and get the first down.”
As head coach at Byrnes High School, with Marcus Lattimore carrying the ball, Bentley had that kind of top back to get those yards when his team needed it.
Lattimore, after a brief stint as a high school head coach, is back at South Carolina in an off-the-field role and reunited with Bentley.
Bentley thinks that’s a good thing. He saw the toughness and right mentality out of Lattimore during his playing days and hopes having him around continues to influence the South Carolina running backs this year.
“Marcus Lattimore, the first time he touched the ball as a freshman, scored a touchdown on national television,” Bentley said. “That’s the mentality we need to have in the room, and I’m not sure we’ve had that in the past.
"I think we’ll have it this year.”