COLUMBIA — Last December, as South Carolina prepared for its upcoming Outback Bowl game against Michigan, Kendric Salley took the field for the first time in more than a year.
It didn’t take long for the former Williston-Elko star to make an impression.
“The very first day that Kendric was able to practice with us he had a couple of runs in there where he just ran over some people,” Gamecocks running back coach Everette Sands recalled. “I was like, ‘Ooh.’ Now I’ve seen it, so I expect it all the time.”
Salley ran for more than 5,000 yards and 94 touchdowns during his high school career, but he partially tore the ACL in his right knee midway through his senior season.
He underwent surgery in late 2011 and was redshirted for the 2012 season. After working out with the Gamecocks in bowl practices, Salley participated in spring drills and scored a touchdown in the annual spring game.
“Right now we’re picking up where we left off in the spring,” Salley said earlier this month. “I’m 100 percent healthy. It feels good to be out there.
“It feels real good now. I know what I’m capable of doing and I’m actually going out there and doing it.”
Whether Salley will see much playing time this year remains to be seen. The Gamecocks are trying to replace star back Marcus Lattimore, who opted to leave school early for the NFL. Salley is listed behind fellow running backs Mike Davis, Brandon Wilds and Shon Carson on the depth chart going into Thursday’s season opener against North Carolina.
“We’ll see all three, but right now Mike is a little bit ahead. He’s going to be the starter,” Sands said last week. “But those guys know they’re going to play.”
According to his bio in the South Carolina media guide, Salley “has the physical tools, but the biggest learning curve of the returning backs” because of his injury.
“Spring game was a chance for me to actually get back out there and play football,” he said. “I actually had a couple of runs I felt I could have done more on, but overall I had a pretty decent day.”
Sands said he needs more of what Salley produced in bowl practice.
“That’s what we’ve got to get out of him,” he said. “I don’t know if it was the first day and he was hyped up, but I’ve got to get that out of him, down in and down out.”
For Salley, being on the sideline is a new experience. He looks forward to taking the field again.
“It was real tough. I never missed a game during my whole career,” he said of the high school injury. “The first game I actually missed brought me down to tears. But it’s a learning experience. I don’t regret it happening. I feel like it was a blessing. Everything’s not going to come easy.
“I’m ready to get out there and prove myself.”