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Muschamp, teammates think Hilinski ready to step in at quarterback

By TIM LEIBLE tim@theitem.com
Posted 9/4/19

The University of South Carolina football team has some changes coming, the biggest of which is coming under center. Late in the Gamecocks' 24-20 loss to North Carolina on Saturday, senior quarterback Jake Bentley suffered what could be a …

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Muschamp, teammates think Hilinski ready to step in at quarterback

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The University of South Carolina football team has some changes coming, the biggest of which is coming under center. Late in the Gamecocks' 24-20 loss to North Carolina on Saturday, senior quarterback Jake Bentley suffered what could be a season-ending injury to his foot and one that will definitely keep him out for several weeks.

In steps true freshman Ryan Hilinski, the 4-star signal caller from California whom head coach Will Muschamp announced as the starter on Tuesday for Saturday's game against Charleston Southern. Dakereon Joyner, a redshirt freshman, will also take some snaps at quarterback, while also seeing time at wide receiver. While Hilinski is young, Muschamp is confident in his quarterback.

"I think he's done a really nice job of learning the offense and spending the time he needs to spend, whether it be in the film room or the weight room or the practice field," said Muschamp. "I'm excited about Ryan. He has a lot of arm talent, a lot of ability, and I think he'll play extremely well. We've got a lot of confidence in him and the job he's going to do on Saturday.

"It's an unfortunate situation, but as Joyner sees it, this is football sometimes.

"Next man up. It is what it is," said Joyner. "Injuries happen, I'm sorry it happened to Jake because he's definitely one of our leaders and a guy that everyone looked up to, but it's next man up."

While Bentley is sidelined, Muschamp said his senior quarterback has every intention of helping the younger guys however he can.

"He was at practice today," said Muschamp. "He wants to be in the meetings, he wants to be involved and to help Ryan and Dakereon and to be a leader. That's who he is."

While Hilinski may be center stage on Saturday, as a true freshman he wasn't made available to the media. He's receiving a lot of praise from his teammates though.

He'll be helping out a quarterback that has a lot of praise coming into his first start. Hilinski stands tall at 6-feet-3-inches and has been lauded for his strong arm. Muschamp, as well as a number of players, pointed to that arm strength as his best physical tool.

"He's got a great arm from what I've seen," said running back Rico Dowdle. "He's getting better and better each day. I'm looking forward to him getting out there Saturday and seeing what he can do."

Linebacker TJ Brunson echoed those sentiments.

"He's a confident guy, he can sling it," said Brunson of Hilinski. "I've seen him come out to work every day and try to do his job to the best of his ability."

Redshirt senior center Donell Stanley is confident in Hilinski's ability to step in, but knows he and the rest of the offensive line have to do a better job of protecting him.

"He's a good guy, athletic, knows how to throw and he knows our offense. We've just got to protect him and let him do what he does," said Stanley. "Especially being the center, I'm going to help him out with the calls and stuff, but I trust the guy. "We brought him here for a reason: to play. With him being a freshman, I see him no different than Jake. He's going to go in and do his thing."

Hilinski won't be the only one taking snaps at quarterback while Bentley is sidelined. Joyner has been playing both wide receiver and quarterback this fall. During the season opener, he had two catches for four yards while splitting out wide. Joyner said his approach hasn't changed since Bentley's injury, as he always prepares to be ready to step in wherever he's needed.

"I'm here to be the best teammate possible, I'm here to play the best role. Whatever my coaches want me to do, that's what I'm going to do," said Joyner. "We're very confident. We've always been confident as being the backup guy. We've always done a good job of preparing the right way to be that guy every week."

While Joyner is now the No. 2, he doesn't see Hilinski as a rival for the starting spot, but a teammate that he needs to push to get better.

"That's never changed. We still hold each other accountable in everything we do, that's never changed since Day 1," said Joyner. "Right now we've gotta push each other even more, be even more detailed in the film room and be ready to go."