COLUMBIA, S.C. — After a relatively quiet two seasons at South Carolina, it's time for Shaq Roland to take a quantum leap forward and become the Gamecocks' next great receiver.
Not Ace Sanders great, or even Bruce Ellington great, but Alshon Jeffery great. Or, dare it even be mentioned, Sterling Sharpe great.
That's the kind of potential Roland has, and there are signs the 6'1'' 190-pound junior could be ready to deliver after a slower than expected start.
Roland's freshman year was a total learning experience. A four-star recruit, according to 247Sports, Roland nevertheless wasn't ready to contribute in a major way on the college level.
2013 looked like it was going to be his breakout year, but a four-game suspension for an unspecified violation of university policy was a major setback that basically wiped out the month of October for Roland.
Toward the end of the season, the light seemed to come on. He caught 13 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns over the 11-2 Gamecocks' final three games.
In South Carolina's 34-24 Capital One Bowl victory over Wisconsin, Roland served notice that he was ready for prime time by catching six passes for 112 yards.
Even after coming on late, he won't be South Carolina's leading returning receiver. In terms of receptions, that honor belongs to tailback Mike Davis, who caught 34 passes for 352 yards.
Wide receivers Damiere Byrd (33 for 575 yards, four touchdowns) and Nick Jones (27 catches for 281 yards and five touchdowns) are next, followed by Roland with 25 receptions for 455 yards and five touchdowns.
Byrd is the fastest player on the team. Jones is arguably the team's best route runner.
However, Roland is the best deep threat the Gamecocks have had in years in large part because he shares traits that Sharpe and Jeffery had before him.
Roland adjusts to where the ball is thrown exceptionally well and has the ability to body up on a defensive back and bring down the ball.
Throw the ball in his general direction, and Roland will come down with it.
That's what makes him so dangerous. He averaged a team-leading 18.2 yards per reception this year.
Granted, Roland has a long way to go before he can even count himself in the conversation with the likes of Jeffery or Sharpe when it comes to the Gamecocks' best receivers of all time.
The ability is there if he puts in the work.
On a team loaded with good wide receivers, it would be a huge boost to the Gamecocks if Roland can emerge as a great one.
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