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Shaq Roland recalled the moment when he first realized Dylan Thompson was ready to become South Carolina's starting quarterback.
Hint: It wasn't last week.
"He's been ready since two years ago," Roland told reporters after a recent practice. "He's always ready. He'll be fine."
Thompson has made three career starts, one at Williams-Brice Stadium (vs. East Carolina in 2012) but none against an SEC foe. That will change, of course, on Thursday night when USC hosts Texas A&M for the first time (6 p.m., SEC Network). Previously, his lone career conference start occurred last season at Missouri when Connor Shaw was injured. Thompson led the Gamecock offense for the first three quarters until being relieved by Shaw, who led the Gamecocks to a stirring comeback victory in overtime.
The transition to Thompson as the starting quarterback began soon after the Capital One Bowl win over Wisconsin ended, so Thursday's clash with Texas A&M culminates an eight-month process, senior left guard A.J. Cann said.
"He's been waiting since the day Connor left," Cann said last Thursday. "He's ready to step up and take control. He'll be ready to play on Thursday. He's focused. He's know what is going to happen. He has control of this team. He is ready to go. He's been waiting for his chance and his time has come."
The fifth-year senior from Boiling Springs has appeared in 25 games and thrown 218 passes in his first four years in the USC program. He has thrown 10 or more passes in a single game just seven times in his career.
Thompson is still relatively inexperienced as far as starting quarterbacks go.
"He's had a good camp and he's excited and ready to go," USC quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus said. "Dylan hasn't played a ton. This is his first year as a starting quarterback. He is excited and ready to roll. Dylan knows this is his game from start to finish.
"He's very comfortable and confident. You can just tell that he knows this is his time. But he has always carried himself that way. He has a little strut in his step and he's very excited to go. He loves playing football. I know he can't wait for 6:01 p.m. Thursday."
Even though the amount of Thompson's playing time was kept in check by Shaw's typically outstanding weekly performances, he has played "meaningful snaps" throughout his career.
"He still gets a lot of reps at practice," Mangus said. "He doesn't like to come off the field. He carries himself the way you're supposed to. We're fortunate to have him and the team is ready to play hard for him. He's the leader. He's earned it. We're ready to watch him."
Wide receiver Nick Jones, a friend of Thompson for more than a decade, anticipates more opportunities in the passing game as a result of the signal-caller's willingness to check down to his second and third receivers before tucking the ball and running.
"With Dylan, there is going to be more passes," Jones said. "Dylan tends to look more at his second and third options than Connor did, so we have to make sure we run our routes hard. A lot of plays are made off scramble plays. With Dylan being a passing quarterback, it's easier for us to break off our defender and come back on our route."
Like Shaw, Thompson is known for his even-keeled, 'never get too high, never get too low' demeanor. Jones says Thompson's hard-nosed personality has been on full display since winter workouts began in January.
"I've been around Dylan since the beginning," Jones said. "I can't tell the difference between when winter workouts started to now. He was prepared then. He is ready to go."
Thompson's funny side has emerged at times, as well.
"He's a jokey guy. A lot of people don't know he is one of the biggest joksters on the team," Jones said.
Will USC avoid calling quarterback run plays or discourage Thompson from scrambling in order to lessen the odds of Thompson being injured since backups Connor Mitch and Perry Orth have virtually no experience? Mangus hinted the answer is no.
"Dylan knows how to protect himself," Mangus said. "He's a pretty good runner. When he does that, he's smart and knows how to get down and not take big hits."