South Carolina Football: Gamecock named one of ESPN’s top national freshmen

South Carolina football freshman safety Jalon Kilgore. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports
South Carolina football freshman safety Jalon Kilgore. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports /

2023 has been a weird season for South Carolina football fans. The difficult schedule and struggled in the trenches have led to a 2-3 record for the Gamecocks, but there have been plenty of individual bright spots on the field, as well.

Quarterback Spencer Rattler and wide receiver Xavier Legette are on pace to challenge for some all-time South Carolina football records this season. Rattler is within reasonable striking distance of Dylan Thompson’s all-time single-season passing yardage record, and Legette is right on pace with Alshon Jeffery’s record-breaking 2010 receiving campaign.

Players like Tree Babalade, Mario Anderson, TJ Sanders, Boogie Huntley, and Debo Williams have all won a weekly award this season or had a breakout performance. Others like Marcellas Dial, O’Donnell Fortune, and Nick Emmanwori have been steady positive performers.

Yet one of the most impressive Gamecocks this fall has been a true freshman defensive back. South Carolina football fans know their favorite team struck gold when they signed Georgia native Jalon Kilgore in last year’s recruiting class, and the rest of the country is starting to take notice.

Over the weekend, Kilgore was named one of ESPN’s top freshmen of the season so far, a big turnaround from how the “worldwide leader” viewe the heavy-hitting safety coming out of high school. In fact, Kilgore’s 8th-place ranking is rather remarkable as ESPN had him pegged as a 3-star prospect and well outside of their top-300 when he signed with the Gamecocks.

Kilgore has been extremely impressive in garnet and black this fall. He got his first action filling in for 2022 Freshman All-Americn safety Nick Emmanwori in week 1 when Emmanwori went down with a hamstring injury. He was one of the team’s two leading tacklers while Emmanwori was out, prompting USC to find a way to keep both on the field when the elder safety returned.

Performing well against both the run and the pass, Kilgore is tied for the team lead in interceptions and tops the Gamecocks in tackles. He is 4th in the entire SEC in stops and is a shoo-in for a Freshman All-American spot, likely becoming the third Freshman All-American safety for USC in the last two seasons (joining Emmanwori and DQ Smith).

Kilgore had already been named a top true freshman performer twice by On3 for his efforts against North Carolina and Tennessee, but ESPN’s recognition of #24 is well-deserved, as well.

The Gamecocks are fighting uphill toward bowl eligibility, and defensive coordinator Clayton White’s unit will rely on Kilgore to continue playing well as they seek to make their way to some form of postseason play.

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