Gamecocks guard Ronald Patrick (67), quarterback Dylan Thompson (17) and guard A.J. Cann (50) talk during a game last season. (Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports)
By Ron Aiken, GamecockCentral.com
Celebrating 15 years of GamecockCentral.com
Question: If two is company and three's a crowd, what is four?
Answer: the senior class at South Carolina.
As one of only four scholarship seniors, Ronald Patrick is part of what might well be the smallest senior class in school history. For someone listed at 6-foot-2, 315 pounds, being known as the smallest of anything is unusual. But Patrick has learned that bigger isn't always better: South Carolina's starting right guard is actually smaller now than his listed weight thanks to a rigorous offseason training program in which he focused on getting in the best shape of his life for the biggest season of his life.
"I really focused in the offseason on being more consistent," Patrick said. "I cut my weight down to 305. I always thought bigger was better, but I got faster and learner."
Patrick didn't take any shortcuts to a better body. He did it the old-fashioned way.
"Eating right and working out.," he said. "I told myself, there's something every day you can do. There's always something you can do. I took that upon myself in the offseason to get to that point, and hopefully it'll pay off."
So do a lot of other people, especially after a scrimmage this past Saturday in which the defensive line had its way with the offensive line, casting doubt for some on how effective the unit can be in 2013. Patrick has some words for anyone who wants to read to much into scrimmage performances.
"It's camp," he said. "You're going to have ups and downs coming out here every day doing the same thing. The first scrimmage, we went out there and had a little step on them. They came right back and responded. So we want to respond in the opening game.
"I have an extreme amount of confidence in the guys around me. I know they'll be right there. They got my left side, my right side, they're going to come out there and compete and battle every rep. We'll be fine."
One thing Patrick is used to is winning. As a three-year starter in Cocoa, Fla., Patrick's final two teams went 28-1 and won back-to-back state 3A titles. His junior year he played on a basketball team that went 30-3 and won the state championship. Now, as part of that tiny senior class along with Jimmy Legree, Connor Shaw and Chaz Sutton, Patrick has won 31 games in his career. With a strong 2013, that tiny class could very well leave as both the school's smallest <b>and</b> all-time winningest.
Such goals are in Patrick's plans, but he's been around long enough to know that to achieve them, you have to stay grounded in the moment.
"It's all out there for us, but it's potential right now," Patrick said. "Nothing is set in stone. You have to go out there and play each week and come out here and practice every day."
As part of the same 2010 recruiting class as Marcus Lattimore, Patrick has been spoiled blocking for one of the school's all-time best. Does Patrick think there will be much of a drop-off now that Lattimore is wearing a San Francisco 49ers jersey?
"Honestly, it's really nice to have a stable of backs," Patrick said. "Coming in, Marcus (Lattimore) was always the go-to guy, and he carried the team on his shoulders. But now, you have quality running backs from top to bottom, and there won't be a drop-off.
"We're going to do the same thing no matter who is back there, because we don't know (who is rotating in and out). I like to run block, I like to get nasty. Pass blocking, you have to do it, but it's no fun having someone come off the ball and strike you. I like to get nasty.
"As a group, we're going to go out there and battle each rep."
Even when he's part of group of senior so small all it needs to hold a meeting is an available couch.
"It isn't really about the class, it's about coming out here and working hard," Patrick said. "You definitely want to take on a leadership role, and of course some juniors have stepped up.
"A lot of people are stepping up, and that's good for everybody."