The good news is the Gamecocks are ranked ninth in The Sports Network preseason top 25 media poll.
The bad news — and the news that most seriously impacts whether the Gamecocks can improve on that ranking during the season — is preseason all-conference offensive tackle Odie Rush had surgery on his fractured left leg Monday and will be out an undetermined amount of time.
The JSU coaches are hopeful Rush can return at some point this season. He does have a redshirt available if needed.
JSU coach Jack Crowe called Rush’s loss a “major” blow to the team’s offense. The development of the offensive line has been the biggest concern of camp.
The Gamecocks lost their ability to control a game with the run last season, particularly late in the year. The offensive line was a veteran group a year ago, but was continually in a state of flux due to injuries.
This year, those veterans must be replaced. Rush, a 6-foot-3, 292-pound former walkon, started all 12 games last season and was JSU’s only pick on this year’s preseason All-OVC offense.
In a release confirming The Star’s social media report on the surgery, the school said Dr. Larry Lemak, the athletic department’s new orthopedist, surgically repaired the fractured left distal fibula Rush sustained in Saturday’s scrimmage.
Crowe said filling the vacancy would fall on any of a number of newcomers, saying he “won’t try to decide” it before Saturday’s Fan Day scrimmage. The first player in the barrel appears to be redshirt freshman Tarik Milner.
“We’ve got some you players who have to (play) without experience,” Crowe said. “We’ve started with the mentality and attitude if they bite when they’re grown, they’ve gonna bite when they’re pups. We’ve got to find a rookie with a little bit in them.”
In another personnel move, Crowe said walk-on Ben Endress of Ashland has won the starting SAM linebacker job.
As for the preseason top 10 ranking, it’s the Gamecocks’ highest preseason mark since they were No. 2 in the 1992 Division II preseason poll. Defending national champion Eastern Washington is ranked No. 1.
“I’m honored to be in the top 10 in the first poll, hoping to finish higher than that,” Crowe said. “It makes it possible for us to do anything and everything we want to do.”
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.