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Will Muschamp

South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp watches his team warm up in Clemson on Nov. 24.

COLUMBIA -- When a player is deciding if he’ll declare early for the NFL Draft, there can be a lot of different forces pulling and pushing his decision one way or another.

It could be family members, different draft grades and draft boards or other teammates trying to sway and influence a decision, which is why Will Muschamp takes his role in the decision-making process very seriously.

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“Having worked in the National Football League, I know a lot of general managers, I know a lot of coaches and I know a lot of people that actually make decisions,” Muschamp said. “Where is he on the draft board? Where can we get him? That’s information, the correct information for him to understand exactly where he’s going to be drafted. I think that’s the most important thing -- give them the most accurate information.”

Muschamp is no stranger to the draft process having been on both sides during his coaching career.

As a college coach he’s seen things from that perspective and what professional coaches are looking for from players coming out of college as either juniors or seniors. Over his career, he’s coached 85 players that have been drafted — including 15 that went in the first round — most recently Hayden Hurst (No. 25 overall to the Ravens).

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But he spent one full season in the NFL working with Nick Saban as the Dolphins’ assistant head coach on defense, where he was on the evaluation and drafting side of things.

So not only does he have the connections at the NFL level with GMs, coaches and scouts, he understands what qualities they are looking for from college players.

“Coach definitely understands the ins and outs and what it takes and what GMs and head coaches are looking for on and off the field,” Jake Bentley said. “That’s the biggest thing he’s talked about.”

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Every player considering leaving early for the NFL Draft usually sits down with Muschamp and the two have honest conversation about where the player is projected to go in the draft and if leaving as a junior makes sense.

The conversations aren’t misleading or Muschamp telling a player what he wants to hear, but instead a legitimate evaluation of a player and the things that would make him succeed in the NFL or things he needs to work on if he came back.

“He just set me down man to man and didn’t sugarcoat things,” Donell Stanley said about the conversation. “He told me what I needed to do. He basically said in both scenarios what the best thing to do.”

The Gamecocks got good news after all of those conversations happened with Bentley and Stanley, with both opting to return for their final seasons on campus.

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Bryan Edwards, who was the last of the three weighing his options, also decided to return for his senior season.

Bentley and Edwards, if they have similar seasons to 2018, would leave South Carolina as arguably the most statistically decorated players at their position in school history, and Stanley would leave as a three-year starter on the offensive line.

Stanley was the only player who made his decision before the bowl game and said one of the biggest reasons why was because of that conversation with Muschamp.

“Just my future and pretty much where I’m going to go. It’s something me and Coach Muschamp talked a lot about and he helped me make this decision,” Stanley said. “I think it’s the right decision.”

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Collyn Taylor reports for GamecockCentral.com, the Rivals affiliate devoted to USC athletics.

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