By Jeff Owens/Jenny Dilworth Photo
If you see a South Carolina football player wearing a T-shirt that says "Ball Hawk" this season, you will know that he has come up with a turnover on defense.
Creating turnovers is a big emphasis for the Gamecock defense, and one of the rewards for coming up with a turnover is a "Ball Hawk" T-shirt. Senior linebacker Skai Moore says there are a lot of T-shirts being handed out during training camp.
"Just a little term we've got on the defense," Moore said. "We are ball hawks. We try to get the ball out every time we can.
"We've been punching the ball out a lot so there are a lot of shirts out there."
The Gamecock defense is being challenged to step up its game this season to support what is expected to be a high-scoring offense. A big focus for the defense is creating more turnovers.
"Turnovers are big. It can change the game," Linebacker Coach Mike Peterson said Thursday. "You get a turnover early, you can get the thing rolling in your favor. Getting a turnover early is really big. Even late in the game, it can seal the win for you or it can give you the go-ahead (score)."
A "Ball Hawk" T-shirt is not the only reward for defenders. Defensive Coordinator Travaris Robinson (T-Rob) has also set up a bucket on the field and any player who comes up with an interception or fumble recovery gets to dunk the football into the bucket.
Defensive players say there is also a lot of dunking going on.
"Everyday, T-Rob says let's get three turnovers, and when we don't match them, he's going to let us know. But when we do, it's a great day," defensive tackle Taylor Stallworth said.
"The key is to have fun with it," Peterson said. "I love it when we get 'em. It's just another token out there for them when they get an interception or get a turnover and knock it in the bucket."
Robinson and his coaches set the bucket on the field and when the defense creates a turnover, someone will hold the bucket up in the air for the player to perform his dunk.
"It's just something fun to get us going," Moore said. "A guy will get the ball out and he will do a crazy dunk."
"We try to get three or four turnovers a day," Peterson said, "and the guys who get a turnover they can alley-oop it or dunk it or whatever they want to to get it up in there."
The defensive players love the impromptu celebration. The offense, not so much.
"We try to dunk it and have a little fun with it," Peterson said. "I took a peek at the offensive guys, and I don't think they were too happy with that, so we might have to speed the dunking process up."
The players have become quite creative with their dunks. Freshman linebacker Sherrod Greene did a 360 dunk Thursday.
"I did a little Shaq," Stallworth, a 300-pound tackle, said, grinning as he flexed his muscles.
Moore, who is third on the school's all-time list with 11 career interceptions, has not come up with a turnover yet but has punched the ball out for other defenders to recover. He has a plan, though, for when he does.
"I would go between the legs twice. Two times. … I'd do a little something, something."