“Robo Leg” did just fine.
Nick Muse has a dry sense of humor. He can be self-deprecating, but he doesn’t lack confidence. When the senior tight end stepped to the podium after South Carolina’s 41-7 win at Vanderbilt, he saw his final stat line on the box score: five catches for 85 yards.
“That’s it?” he said, laughing. “I should’ve had six for 92.”
Both the five catches and the 85 yards were career highs.
A transfer from William & Mary, Muse only played seven games in 2019 before tearing his ACL. He’s had to wait a year for his moment of glory with the Gamecocks.
It came Saturday, with the Gamecocks offense scuffling early against an aggressive Vanderbilt pass rush. With the defense honed in on veteran wideout Shi Smith — the nation’s leader in receptions per game entering the day — quarterback Collin Hill desperately needed to find another reliable target.
Enter Muse. In the second quarter, he kick-started USC’s first touchdown drive with a 32-yard reception, followed by a 9-yard reception. Beyond serviceable, Muse looked dynamic with the ball in his hands, evading defenders and gaining extra yardage on nearly every catch.
The last time Muse played Vanderbilt, he tore his ACL. This time, he led the Gamecocks in receiving and was a key factor in their first win of the season.
“It was good, especially when you don’t get to practice or play football for eight, nine months, then you finally get back,” Muse said. “But for the most part, my ‘Robo Leg’ held up today.
“I feel like I still can’t outrun people — even though I’m gonna try.”
Behind Muse’s facetious exterior is a ferocious internal motor. Hill saw it firsthand when he arrived on campus, transferring from Colorado State and recovering from an ACL tear of his own.
“We were kind of in a similar situation when I first got here, just both in the training room trying to get healthy,” Hill said. “Seeing how that guy works and how he operates, you wouldn’t want it for any other guy. I mean, that dude worked his tail off. And I’m just really happy that he had the day he did.”
With Smith commanding the overwhelming majority of Hill’s targets through the season’s first two games, Muse hasn’t had many opportunities to announce his presence on the field. Much of the early season conversation around Muse has been about key drops he made in losses to Tennessee and Florida.
Muse opened Saturday’s game with a drop, too, a situation in which he said he was “trying to make a play” before he caught the ball. But the tight end quickly flushed the play from his memory.
“It happens, man,” he said. “It happens to everybody. I feel like when that happens, you just got to go on to the next play. That’s what I usually do. You’re gonna get hate no matter what happens. If I catch it, but don’t get yardage — hate. If I dropped it — hate. At the end of the day, I just got to do my job. My job was to catch the ball.”
Hill defended his tight end, saying fans and media put too much focus on Muse’s drops and not enough his throws. He called Muse a “stud,” and Muse certainly looked the part on Saturday.
The fact that he’s playing at at all — not to mention playing at a high level — is something Muse is grateful for. It takes mental fortitude to recover from a substantial injury like an ACL tear and even more so to rehab during a global pandemic.
“For the most part, my leg’s been healed fully, I’m healthy, so I can’t complain,” Muse said. “I mean, God put this in my life for a reason. And now that I’m fully back, I’m just blessed.”
Of course, he wouldn’t be Nick Muse if he didn’t end his press conference with a tiny dash of good cheer.
“Thank you,” he said as he walked away from the podium. “Love you, mom.”
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