Before the season even began, University of South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier had discovered what many people in the state already knew about former Lexington High School wide receiver Shaq Roland.
“Shaq Roland has a knack for going up and getting it at the last moment,” Spurrier told gamecocksonline.com. “He has the ability to get it at the highest point.”
North Augusta players, coaches and fans learned that lesson the hard way in last year’s game between the Jackets and Wildcats. Now a freshman for Spurrier’s Gamecocks, Roland had 182 receiving yards and three touchdowns on eight catches to go with four rushes for 49 yards and two more scores in the 59-56 victory.
None of those plays was bigger than the catch he made as the game neared its conclusion. With the final seconds ticking away, Roland made a leaping 38-yard catch and landed on his back along the sidelines. He managed to roll out of bounds and stop the clock to set up a game-winning field goal that made the final score 59-56 in the Wildcats’ favor.
While the end result of that play might have had its controversy, Roland’s raw ability was never in question.
“He’s one of the best receivers in the country,” said North Augusta head coach Dan Pippin of Roland after the loss. “And he just made a big play at the end of the game. He’s a Shrine Bowl guy for a reason.”
Coming into this season for the Gamecocks, though, Roland had to rely on more than his physical gifts. He acknowledged in an interview with gamecocksonline.com that he was learning to do more than just outrun his opponent; now, a more fundamental approach is required against tougher competition.
“In high school, I just kind of ran by people,” Roland said. “But now, I’ve got to work on the little things, technique.”
To help that transition, freshmen often turn to older players in their position group to learn the way to play at the college level.
For Roland, that has been junior Ace Sanders, who has 12 catches for 110 yards and a touchdown on the season.
The freshman said he was drawn to Sanders as an example because of his ability to run the intended pass patterns.
“His route-running is incredible,” Roland said of Sanders. “I’ve never seen it like that.”
In addition to developing an increased knowledge of the fundamentals of playing wide receiver, Roland had to learn a deeper and more sophisticated playbook than what he was accustomed to at the high school level.
Especially with just a couple months between when he got to campus and the start of the Gamecocks’ season, the freshman had to pick up his responsibilities quickly.
“That’s been a transition I’ve been trying to work with,” he said before the season. “That’s a lot of plays I’ve got to learn in a short amount of time.”
In limited action, Roland’s studying and attention to detail have paid off. Through five games, South Carolina’s 2011 Mr. Football has three catches for 55 yards, including a 30-yard touchdown catch in the Gamecocks’ Sept. 15 tilt with UAB.
While he has put his knowledge to use, he said he also still finds occasion to use his athletic instincts.
“I just go up and get it sometimes, if I have to,” Roland said.
Jeremy Timmerman has a journalism degree from Mercer University and has been at the Aiken Standard since June 2010.