Photo by Gabriel Stovall / Former Lovejoy start Rico McWilliams is back from a leg injury that sidelined him during his freshman year at South Carolina.
HAMPTON — Rico McWilliams had everything going for him toward the end of his high school football career at Lovejoy.
He’d finished just one game shy of a Class AAAA title. He was getting ready to graduate high school with a college scholarship to up-and-coming SEC football power South Carolina.
Not only that, but he made a quick, positive impression on some of the Gamecocks elite — like former star running back Marcus Lattimore — as he began working to find his way on the collegiate level.
Then his knee buckled and gave way during a non-contact drill at South Carolina’s fall camp.
As he crumpled to the turf, so to did his hopes of making an immediate impact as a true freshman on one of college football’s best defensive units.
What a difference a year makes.
Last week, McWilliams — distraught at the time of his injury — was back to his jovial and competitive self as he lifted weights and ran footwork and route running drills with several other former teammates last week on the turf of Twelve Oaks Stadium in Hampton.
And by the way he was back peddling, changing directions, and jamming his old buddies at the line of scrimmage, you could tell McWilliams had his confidence back.
“The knee is just fine,” McWilliams said. “It’s come back almost full strength. I should be completely ready to go by the time fall camp starts.”
That’s in about three weeks. And if you ask McWilliams about it, he’ll tell you that it’s past time for him to get back out on the field.
“No doubt the injury, and not being able to play last year was hard," McWilliams said. “It's definitely made me want to get back out there and play hard to make up for lost time.”
That’s why, instead of resting during the Fourth of July week, McWilliams was out hustling around on the field with other former Wildcats as a means of preparing for the upcoming college football season.
“That’s the way it’s supposed to be,” McWilliams said when Lovejoy defensive coordinator Edgar Carson seemed surprised that McWilliams and company wanted to get out on the holiday to work out.
McWilliams said that reliving the camaraderie with his former teammates was too appealing to skip a day.
“It’s great to get back out here with these guys and be able to see everybody making their way and doing their thing at the next level,” McWilliams said.
If McWilliams gets on the field this year, he’ll be playing on one of the nation’s stingiest defenses. The Gamecocks, who finished 11-2 overall and 6-2 in the conference, also sport one of the country’s most electrifying players in defensive end in Jadeveon Clowney, who will be considered for several national awards.
Now healthy, McWilliams said he’s looking forward to seeing what he can do.
“I’ve been working a lot with the top two units,” he said. “I should be able to get some good playing time this year.”