South Carolina football’s offense is Jake Bentley’s show for 2019.
In a game as violent as football, that means the Gamecocks are one snap away from it being Ryan Hilinski’s show.
The true freshman from California topped Dakereon Joyner for the backup job behind Bentley. An early enrollee, Hilinski showed the staff enough to earn that privileged spot, which comes with more practice reps and a more central role in the gameplan.
And a greater burden of preparation, approaching it like a starter would.
“A lot of stuff helps once you get into a game plan scenario,” offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon said. “So I mean, the playbook shrinks down, with the plays that you run and him understanding defenses and all that other stuff. So we feel like he will do a good job at that.”
Not that a staff can ever really know.
“He’s never been put in that position since he’s been in college before,” McClendon said. “So it’s kind of premature to say, you know, I would be 100% confident in the guy. But I do think I have 100% confidence that he’ll go in there and live up to those expectations.”
The explanation for why Hilinski won the job came down to just doing what was asked. That answer mirrored what quarterbacks coach Dan Werner explained he wanted from a QB. The staff thinks it has good play-makers, so all a QB is asked to do is run the offense, get the ball to him and let them do their thing.
Bentley said he spoke to both Joyner and Hilinski, sharing what they think and how they feel.
“Everything is great going forward,” Bentley said.
And the veteran saw growth from spring to summer that ultimately allowed the freshman to take the job.
“He’s learned a lot,” Bentley said. “I think that’s a good good way to put it. He’s faced a lot more situations this camp, you know, considering the depth we’ve had on defense and the amount of looks available to give with that garnet group. He’s learned a lot and I think he’s got a lot better.”
Hilinski came to Columbia as the No. 64 player in the country in his high school class. He threw for more than 6,400 yards his last two years in high school, leading a team devastated by injuries against a brutal schedule as a senior.
He earned a spot in the Elite 11 and showed well in the All-American Bowl. He’s turned down offers from teams such as Stanford, Southern Cal, LSU and Ohio State.
Before he came to college, he said he expected to redshirt if Bentley didn’t go pro, but later said he’d put the decision in the hands of coaches.
Now he’s got the No. 2 spot he battled for across eight months, but McClendon said Hilinski wasn’t just set to rest on his laurels.
“(He is) just ready to work, obviously,” McClendon said. “It’s not a finished role.
“This is definitely nothing to sit there and be happy about and start having a parade about. It’s time to make sure that we go get to work.”