Senior Marques Ivory led the Jacksonville State football team into the third week of preseason camp with two practices on Monday and, after an injury postponed his senior season, he is ready to get back under center and get the 2012 season started.
After a broken leg suffered late in the second quarter of the Gamecocks' 2011 season opener vs. UT Martin halted what was supposed to be his senior season less than one half in, the Warner Robins, Ga., native started the path to recovery. A medical redshirt was granted, allowing him to take another go at his final season in 2012, one he and head coach Jack Crowe says he is on track for.
Forced to the sidelines after a junior season that saw him lead the Gamecocks over OleMiss, into the Playoffs and to as high as No. 2 in the national polls, Ivory saw the game through a different set of eyes in 2011. One season after throwing for 2,248 yards (sixth-most in school history) and 18 touchdowns (fifth-most in school history), Ivory found himself on the sidelines and in the booth, watching the game through a coach's eyes. That experience is one he and Crowe hopes will not only benefit Ivory, but the Gamecocks in his second attempt at his senior campaign.
"All of the pieces are working," Crowe said. "He's a better quarterback now than he's ever been. I think he gained enormously from sitting with the play caller last year. He is going to be a football coach, and he's like a coach right now. That's the difference between this Marques and the other Marques. I'm just really glad that we've got him, and I wouldn't want anybody else. I think it will only be in retrospect that we will know how (sitting out last year) benefitted him, but the opportunity is enormous."
"The biggest thing was learning to work at a faster tempo," Ivory said of his experience in 2011. "It helps our coaches a lot if we can go ahead, get lined up and get ready. It allows him to make calls, to get personnel in and to be prepared faster."
Ivory's progress isn't limited to the mental side and to what makes him one of the best leaders on the JSU roster. He feels good after almost a year of healing and rehab, and his strides have not gone unnoticed by Crowe.
"Physically, I think he is right on it," Crowe added. "There aren't many throwers as good as him anywhere, and mentally there aren't many equal to him either. And he can move, and its deceptive sometimes. When you see a guy that's 230 pounds and a 450-pound bencher, you think you are looking at an offensive guard, but he can stick his foot in the ground and is deceptive that way."
A year away from taking snaps and leading his offense down the field has taken its toll on the fifth-year senior, and he is still trying to get all of the kinks out before his Gamecocks kick off the 2012 season on Sept. 1 at Arkansas. However, with a healthy leg under him now, he feels confident he and the Gamecocks will be ready to go next week.
"I'm still getting back into the groove. I think I'm almost there, almost back and ready," Ivory said. "Being off for a year has been kind of tough, but I'm working hard trying to get there. My leg feels fine. I haven't had any problems out of it for probably five or six months now, so it feels good."
He will be in charge of an offense that returns five starters on the offensive line in front of him, as well as Preseason All-America running back Washaun Ealey behind him. On the outside, three of the top five receivers from last season are back, including Alan Bonner, a senior that led the Gamecocks with 33 catches for 582 yards. Add junior quarterback Coty Blanchard, who stepped in after Ivory's injury to lead the Gamecocks to a share of the 2011 Ohio Valley Conference title, and Ivory and the Gamecocks like what they are capable of on offense this season.
Gamecocks Looking To Piece Everything Together In Third Week of Camp
The Gamecocks started their third week of preseason practice on Monday, working out twice on Burgess-Snow Field. With more than 50 freshmen and sophomores on his 2012 roster, Crowe and his staff are starting to put personnel pieces together and have a better idea of who will be on the plane when it leaves for Arkansas next week.
"We don't know everything we need to know before we go play Arkansas, but we are beginning to find out who the players are going to be in the preparation and exactly how we are going to use all of them. We still have work to do out here, and a lot of it has to do with what their production is. There are some of these guys that have done everything and worked and produced the elements that you need to put something together. Then you have to reevaluate it, and I think we have gotten to that evaluating every day to see if we can't take our strengths and magnify them and take our weaknesses and make sure they don't get us beat."
The task at hand for this week will be putting those pieces together and having this young Gamecock squad in position to implement the Arkansas plan next week.
"We want to get into an organizational pattern that develops game plans that we can execute. We need to be able to put a game plan together and make it efficient and effective, and that takes an organization of practice and thinking that we haven't done yet. Basically, we have been learning the playbook, evaluating players and hardly anything to do with winning a football game, to be honest with you. It's time to put it all together."