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Robertson and Lucas Strengthen Gamecocks Defense in 2024

Travian Robertson and Sterling Lucas play a key role in strengthening the Gamecocks defense in 2024. That starts with the defensive front.

The weak link on the defense in 2023 was the defensive line. However, personnel changes make the defensive front much stronger during Spring practice. Depth alone changes what coaches can do up front. More capable bodies mean more rotation and fresher players. However, the role of the coaches is just as important. Sterling Lucas, a native of Orangeburg, SC, enters his third year in Columbia. Lucas coaches edge/outside linebackers. On the interior, Travian Robertson is finishing his first calendar year on staff, but his familiarity with the Gamecock program runs deep. Lucas’s NFL background and the hard-nosed, blue-collar approach of Robertson promise a strengthened Gamecock defense in 2024. 

Lucas the Recruiter

Coaches with primarily NFL backgrounds have something to prove when recruiting at the college level. That “something” is often seen as a slight against coaches making the move down from the pros. For Lucas, it was a driver. He was the primary recruiter for the top-two rated prospects currently on the roster, five-star players Dylan Stewart (edge) and Nyck Harbor (wide receiver). He has also recruited several other four-star players who will heavily contribute in 2024, along with quarterback LaNorris Sellers. In January, South Carolina extended Lucas through 2025. However, last season, the edge position was highly unproductive. Only five of the team’s 21 total sacks came from edge players. In the same way, only 10 of 54 tackles for loss came from the edge. So, why should fans expect different results on the edge this season compared to 2023?

The answer is simple: personnel. There is no disrespect to those who played edge in 2023. Most of those players return except Jordan Strachan. Tyreek Johnson will slide outside from his defensive tackle position. Desmond Umeozulu is another year bigger and stronger. Transfer Jatius Geer played on a broken foot for most of 2023 and is now healthy. The Gamecocks added Kyle Kennard via the portal. He accounted for six sacks in 2023 (12.5 career), more than any player for the Gamecocks last season. Most notably, five-star Stewart will be ready to contribute from the first snap of 2024. This group provides the most talent Lucas has had to work with while at South Carolina. Simply by way of players, Lucas has a strengthened Gamecocks defense on the edge. 

Robertson Just Getting Started

Personnel is also important for Robertson working with the interior defensive lineman. However, in his case, the retention of personnel is most impactful. Tonka Hemingway, TJ Sanders, and Alex Huntley all return in 2024. These players amassed the majority of production along the defensive front in 2023. Some players who left the Gamecocks program are an addition by subtraction. Robertson’s coaching style is not for everyone. The chatter inside the building is that some guys did not appreciate the pushing and challenging aspect of Robertson’s coaching, so they decided to find another home. Robertson is preparing his guys to play with a high motor for four quarters like his mentor and position coach, the late Brad Lawing, did. 

Robertson played for Lawing at South Carolina and coached under him at Georgia State. Lawing coached the defensive line for the Gamecocks on two different stints. He is best known in Columbia for coaching during the greatest run in school history under Steve Spurrier. During this time, Lawing coached Jadeveon Clowney, among others. Robertson does not cut corners in practice. Players never stop moving and are pushed to practice with a game-like intensity. Roberston came onto the staff on May 1, 2023. Therefore, his impact in 2023 was limited. Now, he has gotten a full year with his players. Results are sure to follow the budding, young coach. 

The Foundation

With a deeper linebacker room and a defensive back group overflowing with talent, the defensive front is the final piece needed to take Clayton White’s unit to another level. Robertson and Lucas have a big responsibility to coach their players to strengthen the Gamecocks’ defense in 2024. If the defensive front can pressure the quarterback and control the running game 50% better than they did in 2023, the defense will make the necessary jump toward being a top-50 unit nationally. 



Photo courtesy: Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports


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