COLUMBIA – If you had asked J.J. Engabare last spring if a year later he'd be coming off a season where he played in 12 games with 20 tackles, he’d probably laugh and say no way.
But the now-sophomore defensive lineman did and is better off because of it as he transitions to a new position defensively.
“I did not expect to play at all,” Enagbare said, flashing a smile. “I was kind of undersized as a tackle, but it was a great experience. I got a lot of knowledge playing early at an early age. I was able to mature faster.
Enagbare came into school as a defensive end and was quickly moved inside to tackle, where he played the majority of his freshmen year.
Now, he’s moving back outside and has spent the entire spring working with Mike Peterson, who works exclusively with the team’s defensive ends and BUCK players.
It’s definitely been an adjustment for Enagbare, having to relearn some of the team’s concepts from a different position and the intricacies that come with playing against SEC-caliber offensive tackles down-in and down-out.
He’s also working to build a relationship with Peterson this spring with the two hoping it will benefit them come the start of the season.
“With me as the coach, it’s about getting him to trust me and believe in me. When you have a new guy in your room, that’s one of the most important things you want from your player. You want your player to feel like your coach cares about him,” Peterson said.
“Right now I don’t know if he’s all the way in, but I’m sure by the end of the year coach really cares about him. When the player realizes a coach cares about him, you can ask that player to do anything and he’ll be will to do anything for you.”
It took some time to adjust to playing defensive tackle as a freshman, coming to South Carolina around 250 pounds before adding about 30 pounds to play on the interior.
Now that he’s bumping back outside, he’s slimming down again and is listed at 265 pounds this spring, down 20 pounds from the 285 he was listed at before the Belk Bowl in December.
“It was due to our nutrition staff with Kristin Coggin,” Enagbare said. “She does a great job planning what we need to eat and by what time.”
Enagbare made the transition back to end because of the Gamecocks’ depth at the position with starters Javon Kinlaw and Keir Thomas coming back and heavy rotation players Rick Sandidge and Kobe Smith still in the fold.
They’ll also get Tyreek Johnson off an ACL injury and add four defensive linemen in this class.
“I feel like we’re two to three deep,” he said. “We legit have depth this year and have people that can contribute different sets of skills that are going to help the team.”