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September 13, 2012
Getting screamed at and told of your basic worthlessness is part of football. See a football player and see a football player that's been blessed out or cussed from one end of the field to another at least once in his career.
Players can handle it. Coaches are supposed to yell and players are supposed to listen. A strong in-the-ear session only lingers as long as the player lets it, because the next play always offers a chance to get a pat on the back.
Except when there isn't that next play.
The worst part was that Jimmy Legree should have been celebrating. He just did it too soon.
Stephon Gilmore had recovered a fumble and had darted through the Georgia defense, on his way to the end zone. Legree, behind Gilmore but acting as a blocker, forgot what he was supposed to do and did what he wanted to do around the 10-yard-line.
Legree had his finger in the air, motioning that South Carolina was No. 1, instead of looking around to see if anybody in a red jersey was coming in. There was somebody, Georgia split end Michael Bennett, who ran right through the space that Legree could have been occupying and dropped Gilmore before he could cross the goal line.
In the grand scheme of it, it wasn't that big a deal. USC scored a touchdown two plays later and the Gamecocks won the game.
But when Lorenzo Ward crawled up inside Legree's head to tell him just how stupid that was, and Steve Spurrier grumbled about it afterward, Legree knew he was in deep, deep trouble.
A starting safety for two games, Legree was benched afterward and barely earned a reprieve. While he played in 12 games in 2011, the final 10 were spent mostly on special teams, as the gaffe remained stapled to him throughout the year.
A new calendar page offered a reprieve, though, especially with Gilmore gone and Akeem Auguste again suffering an injury that would keep him out of multiple games. USC needed a cornerback, Legree was a natural cornerback that had been moved to safety, and when he was asked to move, he didn't need to be asked again.
The Georgia mistake cost Legree a lot more than a minute's discomfort.
He's not letting it bother him.
"It feels great being back at cornerback, my more natural position," he said on Tuesday, as the No. 8 Gamecocks continued practicing for Saturday's game hosting UAB. "I enjoyed playing safety, but it really wasn't for me. I just tried to help the team out as much as I could. Cornerback feels a lot better."
And Legree looks a lot better.
Through two games, Legree leads the Gamecocks (2-0, 1-0 SEC) with 12 tackles, and also sparkled with an interception returned for a touchdown against East Carolina last week. It's a new day for the quiet youngster from Beaufort, and he's making the most of his opportunity.
"I don't want to live in the hype, really," he earnestly said. "I just want to stay focused, stay humble and keep pushing forward."
Sure, but isn't it a little fun?
"Yeah, it was," Legree said, finally bowing to one small moment of braggadocio. "I had to showcase my skills a little bit, get the fans hyped."
"He's making the plays we all felt like he could make," secondary coach Grady Brown said. "When opportunity meets preparation, that's normally what happens. He did a good job of catching the ball, lining up properly and having his eyes in the right place. It was good to see him go out there and make a play."
Legree is comfortable in his spot and should stay there for a while. He said he isn't worried about losing his spot to Auguste if the senior can and does return (he is set to be re-evaluated from surgery on his thigh near the end of the month), because it will only strengthen the unit.
"Nothing to be concerned about," he said. "We're waiting for him to come back, actually. The more help, the better."
As for the bit of crowd-pleasing, Legree felt he earned it. He'd had a recovered fumble taken away from him just before the interception, yet got the turnover back.
That was the pick-six, a play where Legree claimed that he talked with safety Brison Williams before the play, telling him to stay long and he would go short. He read the quarterback's eyes all the way, leaped in front of the pass on a dead run and wasn't breathed on as he hit the end zone.
Then, and only then, did Legree raise his two index fingers to point to the crowd.
He'd waited a while to do it again.
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