Dennis Daley stood on top of the bleachers at Williams-Brice on Dec. 15 and, like all the athletes, smiled as his picture was taken. At 6-foot-6, Daley towered over the majority of the people there, but the graduation cap he was wearing added a few extra inches up top.
Daley was laughing and in a good mood a few hours before he would ultimately become a college graduate, something two years ago he didn’t think would happen.
“I think every day when I woke up I felt like that. Like, ‘This is never going to end,”’ Daley said. “I just continued to stay positive and that got me through it.”
Daley, who played high school football at Ridge View in Columbia, didn’t go straight to South Carolina out of high school. Instead, he played two years at Georgia Military College, which he said was “probably the two hardest years” he’s every dealt with.
He didn’t go into specifics but said dealing with being away from home and his family took a toll and he had to rely on forces back in Columbia to get through it with the main one being his mom.
“We talked every day. Every day,” Daley said, flashing a smile. “Being in that situation you have to talk to somebody every day.”
Daley had to stick with it over the two years he spent in junior college before he could ultimately arrive at South Carolina and get his future career started.
Outside of his mom, one of the most calming influences was that of offensive line coach Eric Wolford, who took over the position the offseason before Daley arrived on campus.
Daley was one of the first recruits Wolford went to see after taking the job, something that still stands out to this day for Daley.
“He sat down with me in a room and got to know each other for a little bit. That’s when I knew I wanted to stay here,” he said. “Usually in recruiting coaches have two sides. He stayed the same person in recruiting and stayed the same person here. He takes football seriously and that’s what I needed in my life.”
Daley credits Wolford’s instruction as one of the reasons he became the kind of lineman he is.
Since arriving on campus, it’s been full steam ahead for Daley, who only missed one game after earning the starting left tackle job one game into the season last year.
He’s now a college graduate and getting ready to start his professional career after the Gamecocks’ bowl game and, despite it being difficult, credits a lot of that to his time in JUCO.
“Going through the hard two years it made me understand what I had to do in order to succeed here,” Daley said. “Those two years really helped me.”
Daley will play in the team’s Dec. 29 bowl game against Virginia before beginning training for the NFL.
He’ll have one more game before the draft, participating with Deebo Samuel in the Reese’s Senior Bowl, and couldn’t be more excited.
“I really appreciate it. I’m looking forward to playing in that game,” he said. “I didn’t know I was going to get accepted but I really appreciate it.”