When Perry Orth and D.J. Park were roommates as freshmen in 2013, Orth sometimes wondered if Park would make it to his sophomore season. Now Orth hears Park talking about making it to the NFL.
“D.J. Park’s progress from his freshman year until now has been incredible. Just seeing his work ethic change over the years has been…,” said Orth, the Gamecocks senior quarterback, before ending his sentence with a head shake.
Park’s transformation has done more than warm Orth’s heart. It has increased his physical safety as well. Park is a 6-foot-4, 330-pound junior offensive lineman who has gone from roster afterthought to South Carolina’s projected starter at right tackle.
“When I hear him talking about wanting to play at the next level and wanting to be a starter and wanting to be one of the best linemen in the conference, it gets you fired up because you want to play with a guy like that,” Orth said. “To see his transformation and his attitude change has been wonderful.”
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Park has looked the part since he arrived on campus in 2013, a four-star prospect out of Dillon who had scholarship offers from Clemson, Florida, LSU and Tennessee among others, but his production and potential remained on opposite poles for two seasons. After a redshirt season in 2013, he appeared only as a special teams lineman as a freshman and sophomore.
“I feel like a few years back I definitely wasn’t ready to play,” Park acknowledged.
When he entered spring practice this season, Park seemed on the verge of being passed up in the offensive line rotation by one of the members of the highly regarded sophomore class such asBlake Camper or Christian Pellage. Instead, he emerged as a regular in the starting five and earned one of the team’s Everyday Effort awards during spring practice.
“Tremendous development,” senior left tackle Mason Zandi said. “That’s a totally different football player right there. His light came on. He really invested into the weight room. He really invested in nutrition. He really invested into the program, and it’s paying dividends right now.”
When Park arrived from Dillon, where he was named to MaxPreps 2012 Small Schools All-America Team, he was overwhelmed by Columbia and the SEC, he said.
“I really had no idea what to expect when I was coming in here. It was a big culture shock when I first got here,” he said. “Now that I know some stuff, I feel like I’m ready.”
That confidence is expected to result in the first start of his career when the Gamecocks play Vanderbilt on Sept. 1 in Nashville. Park has worked as the starting right tackle from the first day of fall camp and shows no signs of giving up the job.
“I have gotten my conditioning up,” he said. “I have started taking it really, really serious and doing what I need to do.”