By Jeff Owens/Photos by Jenny Dilworth and Allen Sharpe
Jacob August looks at the Gamecock depth chart and knows he's playing behind Hayden Hurst, one of the best tight ends in the country.
He's also competing with K.C. Crosby, Kyle Markway, Kiel Pollard and others for reps in what is a deep tight end group. But August, like his teammates, relishes the competition.
"We're all competing for the same spot," the 6-6, 250-pound junior from Columbia said. "We're really rotating pretty evenly. … Hayden could be a first-round draft pick, so you have to have that in your mind. But if I wasn't trying to beat Hayden out, I shouldn't be playing football."
As deep as the Gamecocks are at wide receiver, they might be even deeper at tight end. Hurst was second on the team in receptions last year and set a school record for tight ends with 48 catches for 616 yards. Crosby had 23 catches and scored four touchdowns. August and Pollard also caught passes. Markway, who missed last season with an injury, played in all 12 games as a freshman, catching three passes.
Then there is redshirt freshman Evan Hinson, an exceptional athlete who also played on the Gamecock basketball team last year. He is pushing for playing time and is joined by true freshmen Will Register and Caleb Jenerette.
Hurst, a team captain last season, says the Gamecocks have "as talented a bunch as any in the country.
"That's a pretty solid bunch," he said.
"All of those guys really look good," said quarterback Jake Bentley, who hooked up with Hurst on a long completion during Saturday's scrimmage. "Its not really my decision to choose who plays, I'm just going to throw it to the open guy. (But) all the tight ends are really doing an outstanding job and really working hard."
The Gamecocks' depth at wide receiver and tight end is giving Bentley and the offense plenty of options and allowing Offensive Coordinator Kurt Roper to develop a wide variety of formations and looks.
He is expected to use plenty of two- and possibly three-tight end sets, and players like Hurst, Crosby and August have the athleticism to line up wide, in the slot or even as a wing-back in the backfield. The depth gives Roper and Bentley the flexibility to use three or four wide receivers, or multiple tight ends on any given play.
"I feel like that is about 75 percent of what we will do," Markway said. "We have a bunch more receivers this year than we had last year. We have been working on a lot of two- and three-tight end stuff.
"We have mismatches everywhere. We can line up Hayden outside, we can put (WR) Shi (Smith) on a linebacker. The tight ends and the receivers are so flexible in this offense."
Hurst, in particular, is expected to be used in a variety of ways in multiple formations, much like wide receiver Deebo Samuel.
"Right now we are in a lot of two-tight end sets and I think that creates mismatches on the safety and linebackers as they come down and have to cover one of us," he said. "Whoever lines up in the B position is going to be a mismatch in the slot."
August says the competition in training camp has been fierce. "You have to be ready to do anything, because we have different personnel depending on the situation and depending on the game plan," he said.
He hopes to get playing time in multi-tight end sets, and believes that will happen often.
"My hope is to get five-tight end sets if we could."