Ron Aiken, GamecockCentral.com
For the past four years, Jimmy Legree has had senior (or NFL-bound) leaders everywhere he looked on defense - Melvin Ingram, Stephon Gilmore, D.J. Swearinger, Shaq Wilson, Travian Robertson … the list goes on.
But now, as a fifth-year senior himself, those faces are gone, and when he looks around, the only other senior on the defensive side of the ball is Chaz Sutton - the very definition of "soft-spoken."
Legree knew coming in it was going to be up to him to lead this year, one way or another, and to his credit he's done just that. Not only has Legree played well in the field - his game-saving interception against Vanderbilt being a highlight - but he's finally embraced the role of a leader, even if it's just taking guys aside rather than firing up the team in front of everyone.
"I look at myself as a leader," Legree said. "Not really the vocal type, but by performance, showing the younger guys what to do and not to do on and off the field.
It's a role his teammates have noticed.
"Jimmy works hard ever day," linebacker Marcquis Roberts said. "Jimmy doesn't talk that much. He leads by his actions. We all look up to Jimmy. He always comes ready to work every day."
His teammates aren't the only ones who've noticed an improved Legree - so has the Head Ball Coach.
"Jimmy has a lot of ability," Spurrier said. "Sometimes he doesn't show it every play. But he's a really good cover corner and is a good tackler and just getting him focused and going every play. But he's had a good year. I guess I just remember one play that he sort of got out of position this year. But he's had a very good, solid year."
For a young man from tiny St. Helena island who hopes one day to start a program to help kids growing up in disadvantaged circumstances, taking a larger role on the game's largest stage and embracing everything about his final season is something he's making the most of - unless that's accepting praise on campus for his interception.
"I don't really feed into all of that (praise)," Legree said. "That was just me doing my job. I don't pay any attention to that."
Another area Legree has excelled in this season is in stopping the run - he currently is tied for third in the SEC in tackles for loss along with Sutton.
"I honestly didn't know that," Legree said. "It feels good, I guess. Tackling was kind of a problem for me in the past, and being tied for third, I guess my game is improving and I have to build on that."
Legree said another aspect of his game that's improved is his approach.
"It starts with preparing for (games), getting enough sleep at night, not horsing around, not playing too much and taking it seriously," Legree said. "Being mentally focused and ready."
For Legree, enjoying this part of his life is foremost in his life.
"My time at USC has been great," Legree said. "I've seen a lot, witnessed a lot and I've come a long way. This is my senior year, and I'm looking forward to the next step in my life."
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