Winston-Salem’s J.T. Surratt has gotten a taste of major-college football. But a taste of the big-time has only whetted his appetite. Now he’s more determined than ever to find ways to earn more playing time for South Carolina this fall.
Surratt, a 6-feet-2, 293-pound sophomore defensive tackle, saw spot duty against Kentucky, Arkansas and Florida last season. Those three games served as eye-opening experiences which he uses as motivation in his quest to emerge as a difference maker on the Gamecocks’ defensive front line.
“The SEC (Southeastern Conference) is the closest thing to the NFL,” said Surratt, who was a 2009 All-State pick when he played for Parkland. “It’s all about getting better and striving for perfection. That’s what our coaches expect. There’s always room for improvement. I know I still have a ways to go.”
It’s unlikely that Surratt will encounter any problems in elevating his game. He faces top-level competition every day in practice. South Carolina, ranked ninth in the USA Today pre-season coaches’ poll, is viewed as a legitimate contender for the SEC championship this year. Not only that, but SC owns one of the nation’s premier defenses. According to one pre-season report, every returning starter on the Gamecocks’ defensive front is a potential All-American.
Quickness and power (he is a 430-pound bench presser) are attributes that will enable Surratt to further develop as a menacing presence. He’s exceptional as a bull rusher and his ability to maintain a low center of gravity makes it difficult for offensive linemen to sustain their blocks on him. As Surratt improves his ability to make the correct reads against opposing front lines, he’ll become more formidable.
“I put in a lot of extra work so that I can keep improving,” said Surratt, who had scholarship offers from Wake Forest, North Carolina State, East Carolina, Marshall and Louisville. “I put in a lot of time working on technique and fundamentals. As you keep getting better, it shows in your level of play. Doing the extra work is what separates you from everybody else.”
Even though Surratt is listed as the back-up behind fifth-year senior Byron Jerideau, he still figures to get his share of minutes when South Carolina kicks off its season at Vanderbilt on Aug. 30.
“Things are going well and I’m excited,” he said. “I’m ready to see what I can do. One of my goals for this year is to get on the field a lot more, so I can help my team in any way I can. I can’t wait for the season to start.”
Surratt’s college career didn’t get off to the grandest of starts. A shoulder injury he suffered as a freshman resulted in season-ending surgery and he was redshirted. The injury forced Surratt to sit and observe and the process and severely tested his patience.
“It was the first time that I had ever been injured to the point where I couldn’t play,” he said. “I was so used to being on the field all the time and being in on all the action. It was tough for me to sit and watch from the sidelines.”