COLUMBIA – A year ago, Jerell Adams was elated just to be part of the team, a roster member, a third-stringer behind NFL-bound Justice Cunningham and touchdown-maker Rory “Busta” Anderson.
His 2012 campaign roughly reflected that. He caught four passes for 90 yards and a touchdown - enough to warrant selection to the SEC All-Freshman team, not enough to move Anderson (14 catches, 271 yards, 5 Tds in 2012) from the depth chart.
Turns out in 2013, Anderson has done that for him.
With Anderson having missed significant practice time now with a hamstring injury teammate and fellow tight end Drew Owens characterized Thursday as “a travesty,” little by little it’s looking like Adams might just be the new No. 1, at least for the North Carolina game, until the more experienced Anderson fully heals.
“I have more to live up to now than last year,” said Adams, a sophomore. “My first year, they were just sort of working me in, and this year they’re expecting a lot more from me now that Justice is gone.”
And now, Anderson.
Just two week ago, Adams’ name was mud when, along with Shaq Roland, he was suspended by Steve Spurrier for the first practice after missing class in summer school. Since Anderson went down to injury, however, Adams has been elevated to a starting role in the rotation as the team’s leading returning receiver at the position. Of the guys beside him — sophomore Drew Owens and freshman Kelvin Rainey, the former spent 2012 sidelined with a knee injury and the latter spent the spring at linebacker tackling tight ends, not practicing with them.
So right now it’s Adams’ world, and why not?
After all, expectations have been high for Adams since he signed with South Carolina in 2011. After a year of prep school postponed his enrollment at South Carolina, in 2012 Adams had huge catches in big games, including a 16-yard catch in the final seconds at LSU to set up a score, a 12-yard catch at Florida in the fourth quarter and the first touchdown of the game against Arkansas on a 29-yard pass from Connor Shaw (his other catch in 2012 was his first, a 33-yard grab from Seth Strickland against UAB).
“The LSU and Florida games were big catches for me because I was trying to help bring the team back,” Adams said. “I was trying to lift our spirits up.”
Adams said he learned as much as he could from Cunningham over the course of 2012.
“I learned how to block certain guys, certain defensive ends,” Adams said. “I learned how to run my routes. I think I run routes and catch the ball well now.”
Has Adams set any preseason goals?
“Not yet,” he said. “I might set some goals, though, before the season.”
If he does, one of those might be to get Busta back.
“(Anderson) is good at blocking and catching,” Adams said. “I look up to him because he’s very good at both. We need him.”
Until that happens, Adams is ready for an increased role in the offense, especially around the red zone where his height and jumping ability – he was a power forward on the basketball team at Scott’s Branch High School – should be a huge asset.
“Hopefully I will be a good red zone threat for us,” Adams said. “We use a lot of two tight-end sets, so the more tight ends that get reps, the more opportunities we’ll get.
“I’m excited to be a part of the system, and hopefully I’ll get my share of the catches.”
With Anderson out, you can count on that.