Gamecocks QB Jake Bentley looking for next step

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) Jake Bentley hasn't changed his relentless approach to hard work or his attitude of how far he's got left to go to succeed for South Carolina in the Southeastern Conference.

Bentley and the Gamecocks will hit the field to open camp Monday - with the sophomore quarterback shouldering high hopes for the team's second season under coach Will Muschamp.

''I came in wanting to play,'' Bentley said Sunday. ''And when it happened, I just took it in striding wanting to grow every day.''

Bentley was a highly regarded freshman who gave up his senior season in high school to graduate a year early and join the Gamecocks. He appeared stuck down the depth chart among several better quarterback candidates and figured to spend his first college season taking late reps at practice and watching from the sidelines.

But halfway through the year with the Gamecocks offense needing a spark, Muschamp pulled the redshirt off his young passer to amazing results.

Bentley's strong arm and skilled decision making - he comes from a family of quarterbacks that includes his father in running backs coach Bobby Bentley and former Rutgers starter Chas Dodd - got the Gamecocks moving in the right direction.

Bentley finished with nine TD passes and four interceptions in seven games, leading the Gamecocks to qualify for a bowl game - a run that included an upset of SEC East challenger Tennessee in October.

He completed 65 percent of his throws for 1,420 yards. Bentley's best came in South Carolina's final game, throwing for a school bowl record of 390 yards in a 46-39 overtime loss to South Florida at the Birmingham Bowl.

Now, Bentley's ready to take a big step forward , and bring the rest of the Gamecocks along with him.

''It makes us feel good that we're getting the program back on the right track,'' Bentley said. ''It's good that people expect us to be good. We expect us to be good.''

Especially after the time Bentley and the offense have put in to improve.

Bentley and offensive grad assistant Mike Symmes poured through tape of every snap from last season, breaking down Bentley's play and targeting areas to fix up.

Muschamp said he saw Bentley in the building watching tape most of the offseason. Bentley, 19, also spent time bonding not just with skill people but with offensive linemen and defensive linemen.

''He's doing everything he can be a leader,'' Muschamp said.

The proof will come not just in Bentley's play , but South Carolina's showing. The Gamecocks started 2-4 without Bentley and still wound up 6-7 with him starting the final seven games.

Tight end Hayden Hurst said Bentley's progress has taken off during spring drills and offseason workouts. While it's sometimes hard to lead as a freshman, Hurst said Bentley got people's attention in meeting rooms, huddles and on the sidelines.

''When he talks, he quiets a hundred guys,'' said Hurst, a redshirt junior. ''They take a knee and they listen to him. It's just so impressive what he does for his age.''

Bentley brushes most of that off. He's always put in the time studying offense, watching film and working with teammates to craft a winning team. He sees a more mature offense entering summer camp that was absent last year, something Bentley has worked to correct ever since the bowl game ended.

''In the tough games, I felt I got quiet and got in a funk as well,'' Bentley said. ''But I've got to stay upbeat keep the guys going.''

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More AP college football: www.collegefootball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25.

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