South Carolina football coach Will Muschamp still speaks warmly about Tank Bigsby.
But the burly Auburn tailback might have him saying some different choice words come Saturday afternoon.
At one point last spring, Bigsby, a big, speedy back out of LaGrange, Georgia, was one of the Gamecocks’ top recruiting targets. Multiple recruiting reporters predicted he’d at some point publicly reveal a pledge to Muschamp’s staff, and a photo even appeared online of him standing atop a military tank near campus on a visit.
But at some point, something changed. USC picked up a commitment from four-star tailback MarShawn Lloyd, as they were looking to add a pair to the backfield. A few months later, Bigsby pledged to the Tigers.
But Muschamp still has well wishes for the 6-foot, 210-pounder.
“Just a wonderful young man,” Muschamp said. “A great family. Came to our campus several times. I think he really liked it here. Thomas Brown did a great job recruiting him. We all had a very good relationship with him. At the end of the day he’s got a lot of great opportunities.”
Bigsby ended up posting 1,636 yards and 27 touchdowns as a senior and ultimately saw his recruiting stock rise to the point where he was ranked ahead of Lloyd.
It hasn’t taken long for Bigsby to look like an SEC back.
He got six carries in the opener, and showed enough to get the starting job. His rushing numbers were nothing special in the second game, a low-scoring loss to Georgia, but he did put up 68 receiving yards.
Then against Arkansas, he rushed 20 times for 146 yards.
“He played hard,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “That was what really stood out to me. He played hard with passion. He could have done some things better, but he played extremely hard and with passion, and that’s what I’m looking for from a coaching perspective.”
South Carolina has yet to see what it will get from the highly rated runner who it got in last year’s class. Lloyd was the star of spring and fall practice, predicted to be a shoo-in as the team’s best offensive playmaker (it’s a little short on that front).
But Lloyd tore his ACL in a non-contact situation. Sophomore Kevin Harris has blossomed as a starter, putting up 326 yards in the first three games. Behind him, Deshaun Fenwick has grown into a solid second option.
Slowing Bigsby would be a challenge in almost any context, and it will be especially big as the Gamecocks come off a less-than-stellar run defense performance last weekend. The numbers weren’t bad, but Muschamp was highly critical of his defensive line, as Vanderbilt got some push with a less-talented group.
Had things fallen differently, perhaps Bigsby might be donning a Gamecocks jersey and toting the ball alongside Harris. But in the SEC, when teams are perpetually going after the same top talent, there are going to be those days a team faces a player its staff almost brought in.
“When you recruit in our league, it’s not like there’s a bad choice,” Muschamp said. “South Carolina’s a great place. Auburn’s a great place. Other great schools recruited him. You put your best foot forward in the recruiting process and the young man makes a decision. He’s from right there in LeGrange, which is obviously close, more convenient for his family. He’s very close with his mother and brother. So I totally understand the decision.”
Next USC football game
Who: Auburn at South Carolina
When: Noon Saturday, Oct. 17
Where: Williams-Brice Stadium