Jamari Smith’s teammates call him the journeyman.
The South Carolina redshirt junior is entering his fourth year with the program. He’s only played 21 games, almost none in non-special teams roles. But he’s never found a home, destined to wander from position to position
“I’ve been moving offense, defense, back to offense, whatever it is,” Smith said. “Like I said, I came here to contribute to the team to the best of my abilities.”
He played running back in high school, then cornerback as a freshman, but back to running back before that year was out. Every year has featured at least one position change.
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In the spring, the new staff with Will Muschamp tried him at wide receiver, and for the moment, it’s stuck.
At 5-foot-10, 210 pounds, he fits in nicely at slot receiver, where quickness in tight spaces is highly valued. He values it for something else.
“I feel like I found my home,” Smith said. “They treat me like I’m family and everything like that.”
As he and the Gamecocks opened August practice, Smith liked the role because it allows him to make big plays and open things up for others to make big plays.
Offensive coordinator Kurt Roper said Smith has shown nice physicalness and the ability to make tough catches. It helps he’s older, even as he learns to play a new position.
But his challenge is on a more granular level.
“His is fundamentals,” Roper said. “It’s going up and lining up and releases on press coverage, releases on second level, releases on third levels, route running, controlling his body to stick his foot in the ground and change, it’s just different than doing it in the backfield.”
Muschamp wasn’t effuse with praise, first saying Smith is a “solid special teams contributor” before adding he needs to do more at receiver.
He came out of spring at the No. 1 slot receiver position, and his backup is a 6-foot-3 walk-on in Matrick Belton, who doesn’t exactly fit the standard mold. Behind them, it’s likely freshmen.
Still, Smith is just happy to have one spot to focus his energy on. He pondered if a broken foot his second year on campus changed his path, as he ended Year 1 on a high note.
In 2013, he got 10 carries in a thrashing of Coastal Carolina and posted 103 yards and a touchdown. Back then he was a running back who dabbled on defense for a little bit. He’d played that spot almost exclusively and imagined a future of ascending to a starting spot and carrying the load for the Gamecocks.
Years later, he’s hoping he can stop a moment on the journey.
“That was a long time ago from my eyes,” Smith said. “I wish I had more time to do that again, but we’ll see. I thought it would, but it didn’t turn out that way. So now, I’m just trying to make it happen again.”