Skai Moore wasn’t supposed to be there.
His job on this particular play during a South Carolina spring practice was to vacate the middle. But as South Carolina’s offense has come to realize in practice, Moore is a bit unpredictable due to his instincts.
Tight end Hayden Hurst recalled the play. Moore came up to fit the run on what turned out to be a play-action pass. In a split second, however, Moore realized quarterback Jake Bentley was set to throw the ball. Hurst was running a dig route and then the ball came out of Bentley’s hands.
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“We’re like, ‘How does he make that play?’ ” Hurst said. “He just has a knack for the football.”
Moore’s return is huge for South Carolina’s defense. He was unable to play during the 2016 season while recovering from neck fusion surgery.
Prior to his absence, Moore was South Carolina’s leading tackler in the three seasons prior and will re-join a defense that is set to bring back six starters.
While Moore was unable to attend SEC Media Days – head coach Will Muschamp said a lot of his defensive players had class conflicts, which is why no one on that side of the ball made it to the annual event – his teammates spoke highly of the progress he has made since undergoing the recovery process.
“Skai has not missed a beat,” Hurst said. “I know people were questioning Skai. Do not worry about Skai. I had to face him every single day in spring practice. He’s the same old talent, I promise. He will come and hit you no matter what. He’s an absolute freak. Wherever the ball is, he’ll find it.”
Bentley said Moore and Hurst frequently work out together in the weight room and has been impressed with what he has seen.
Before arriving to South Carolina, Bentley heard plenty about the standout linebacker who routinely found himself around the football. Now that he has seen Moore up close during the past year, he is even more impressed with what Moore has done on the practice field.
“It’s incredible. He works so hard,” Bentley said. “He’s always working with Hayden, always in the weight room grinding with him. Just seeing him on the field, I heard so much about him coming in. When I got here, he couldn’t do anything. Seeing him on the field again, it’s unbelievable to see how athletic he is and his knowledge of the game.”
If Moore winds up leading South Carolina in tackles this season he’ll become the first Gamecocks player to ever do so in four seasons. In addition, he would be the 15th player ever in the history of NCAA college football to do that for his team.
In his career, Moore has recorded 10 games with a double-digit tackle total.
Needless to say, Muschamp is happy to have him back.
“He's a playmaker and a guy we're really excited about,” Muschamp said. “Been through an awful lot this year as far as the adversity he's been through.”