Oct. 14, 2016
by Kelli Caldwell
South Carolina is starting a new season with many changes, but their defense still looks solid with the help of two seniors.
The defense of a football team wouldn't stand a chance without having good linebackers in position to help protect. South Carolina has had some big hitters come through the program, and T.J. Holloman and Jonathan Walton will be missed after this season. Walton and Holloman have been a dynamic duo since their freshman year, and both have shown leadership on and off the field.
After being redshirted his freshman year, Holloman has tallied over 140 career tackles over his three years at South Carolina and over 10 tackles for loss. This Georgia native is also exceptional off the field, being named to the SEC Fall Academic Honor Roll twice. He also serves as the team's Student-Athlete Advisory Committee representative this year.
A 2015 team captain, Holloman's leadership role on the team didn't end there. With different coaches and new players, Holloman and other senior players including Walton have served as mentors to younger players.
"(The coaches) have definitely pulled us in and asked us to try and mold the guys and lead them in the right direction," Holloman said. "They basically asked us both to be leaders and lead by example, so when the younger guys see us working, that's how they should prepare."
From his freshman year, Walton saw playing time in 13 games in 2013 and is listed as a co-starter his senior year. He's also posted over 100 tackles in the past three seasons and was named most improved linebacker of the spring in 2014 and 2015. With Holloman and Walton playing together so much, the two have been able to read and react to each other better in games.
"We kind of have a feel for things that we naturally do, so we adjust to each other in a way," Walton said. "It's pretty cool. We just love playing with each other."
Holloman even hosted Walton when he was here for his official visit when Holloman was a true freshman. Since Holloman was redshirted in his first year on campus, the two have been playing side by side for now their fourth year. The chemistry has been built on the field according to Holloman, and Walton agrees that since they play well with each other, it has helped them physically in the game.
"We use that to kind of balance each other on the field," Walton said. "With great communication between each other we are able to even that out and play well."
With senior Skai Moore, who has 260 career tackles, recovering from neck surgery, forcing him to take a redshirt for 2016, Walton realizes there is a void. Walton knows he and Holloman can help their teammates and take on Moore's responsibilities this season.
"We have to be much more of that leadership group this season," Walton said.
With a lot of youth on the roster, including a large class of freshmen, the coaching staff comes to seniors like Holloman and Walton for advice. As new players figure out how the plays work out on the field, the duo never fails to help them out. Asking them different questions and how they feel about certain players playing positions shows their important role for the team as a whole and not just as a linebacker.
Holloman would agree with their mentorship positions on defense. It's definitely a liability if they don't improve and take on their leadership roles.
"They are good leadership positions. Being linebackers, of course, everyone on the defense looks to you to make the calls, to make the checks," Holloman said. "It's a big responsibility, but it's also something the both of us have handled very well."
There's no doubt the hiring of head coach Will Muschamp changed the dynamics of the team, and Walton agrees the team continues to grow from it.
"It's different as far as just how you approach everything and change the tempo of everything." Walton said. "It changes the attitude of most guys on the team, and I think they are making a lot of great changes since they've been here."
South Carolina had the same head football coach for 10 years until Steve Spurrier stepped away last fall. Changing that kind of foundation for players who thought they would finish their career with the same coach with whom they signed can be dramatic, but Holloman notes it's something the players are warming up to as time progresses.
"We're definitely more focused. Coach Muschamp's defense has definitely called us to be more focused into detail." Holloman said. "The stuff they use, you can't just go out there and just do it, you have to practice it. It's definitely caused the team to be more focused."
Muschamp hasn't ignored the hard work that Holloman has put in his collegiate play, but he rather appreciates the determination and success in his playing ability.
"We all learn differently, but T.J. is a guy that learns; he has a high aptitude to learn extremely well on the board, in the film room, and in rep situations." Muschamp said. "He can play multiple spots without really having to rep the situation. That's going to help his career, (being) able to adapt himself to multiple situations."
Every team wants to do well in their season, but, for these two seniors, they want to finish out what they started in a well-rounded football program.
"End great," said Walton. "I mean, we had a strong start coming in, and we want to finish strong. That's the goal right now."
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