Veteran status in the realm of sports is not given, it's earned. One doesn't just have the experience because of the talent. They must see the live reps to transition what they've learned in the film room to the field.
South Carolina quarterback Zeb Noland has seen plenty of film. He's also seen his fair share of reps.
The Gamecocks (4-3, 1-3 SEC) needed help in a 21-20 victory over Vanderbilt last Saturday. Starter Luke Doty suffered a season-ending foot injury, leading coach Shane Beamer to call on the Noland as the closer.
Noland balled out. He went 5 of 8 passing for 75 yards, connecting with receiver Xavier Legette to take the lead late. With Doty's season over, it's Noland's team the remainder of the season.
“He has maturity and the experience of not getting affected by things, and he understands how to approach and prepare for a (game),” A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said. “He came off the bench last week and led them to victory when they were struggling on offense and hadn’t scored a lot of points."
Noland's garnered the respect of Fisher and Beamer due to his ability to win. It's almost as if he's an extra coach in the huddle, helping his offense find stability.
The reason? Well, he was one. Following Noland's final season at North Dakota State, Beamer brought him to Columbia as a graduate assistant. Doty was set to start the season before suffering an injury in during fall camp.
Noland, 24, still had one year of eligibility remaining following the NCAA granting all football players an extra year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. After sitting the bench at Iowa State and NDSU, Noland trotted out Week 1 against Eastern Illinois.
In four games, Noland has been a constant commanding Beamer's offense. He has a completion rate of 58.2 percent and six touchdowns against one interception.
“He (had) played in a college football game a hell of a lot more recently than anybody on our team,” Beamer said. “Is it a little bit unique? Yes, but it wasn’t like he played a few years ago.”
Unlike his teammates, Noland was still playing while spring ball began at Williams-Brice Stadium. The FCS elected to move its season from the fall to the spring due to the pandemic, giving players a chance to either opt-out for the NFL Draft or play a shortened year.
Noland, who was the team's backup for future No. 3 pick Trey Lance, started the first six games of the season before being benched. The Bison would go on to lose in the FCS quarterfinals against eventual 2021 champion Sam Houston State.
He's now two wins away from helping the Gamecocks become bowl eligible for the first time since 2018.
Noland is a college football feel-good story. The No 17 Aggies (5-2, 2-2) cannot allow that to affect the outcome of Saturday's game. A&M is riding high following its two-game win streak over then-No. 1 Alabama and Missouri.
A victory would guarantee that A&M would be bowl eligible for the 13th consecutive season. It also would keep them on pace to finish high in the SEC West and earn a better bowl bid.
Noland still thinks like a coach. He's already self-scouted the film on Alabama's Bryce Young against A&M's front seven. He's also seen the success of Mississippi State's Will Rogers, who threw for more than 400 yards and three touchdowns in 26-22 upset over A&M.
The best answer is for Noland to play his game. The logical one for beating the Aggies likely falls somewhere in the middle of playing like Rogers and Young.
“Just go 1-0 in your daily duties,” Noland said Wednesday. “That’s really my only goal every day.”
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