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Carolina Panthers

Xavier Legette leaves South Carolina for the NFL with something to prove

Xavier Legette

INDIANAPOLIS— For four years, Xavier Legette saw his season derail in one fashion or another. During his freshman year, the Mullins, S.C. native, played 11 games but had to sit out the finale. As a sophomore and junior for South Carolina, injuries sidelined him for several games. In Legette's senior season, he played in all 13 games but recorded stats in only eight.

"I just knew that every year that I was dealing with those things, I told myself, I've got another year to prove my point," Legette said last month as he began preparations for the NFL draft.

When Legette returned for his super senior season, he turned in his best performance yet and one for the record books. He pulled in 71 receptions, surpassing the thousand-yard mark with 1,255 yards and seven touchdowns. The mark made Legette only the fifth receiver in Gamecocks' history to exceed a thousand yards.

"It never really hit me," Legette said of the goal. "I just had a couple of problems that I dealt with at South Carolina that kind of stopped me from doing that. But this year, I feel like I hit that point that I wanted to."

With the thousand yards, Legette joined Sidney Rice, Alshon Jeffery, Pharoh Cooper, and Sterling Sharpe. But there's another former Gamecock who helped guide Legette through his career and is now on the NFL's precipice.

Deebo Samuel and Xavier Legette never played together in Columbia, but the relationship they forged, while Legette was being recruited, laid a strong foundation.

"We talk every day," Legette said. "He tells me every day I just got to be consistent throughout this whole process."

Beyond Samuel's off-field influence, Legette drew from his friend's usage as the human joystick with the Gamecocks and now with the San Francisco 49ers. As Legette goes through the combine this weekend, his upcoming Pro Day, and workouts with teams, he's hoping coaches see the possibility of using him similarly.

"I did that at South Carolina," Legette explained. "I got plays where I'm coming out of the backfield. I had plays where I'm coming from the slot. I also had bubble screens, lead ball, however they need to give me the ball."

Legette started playing football as a running back to emulate his favorite player, Marshawn Lynch. He was a quarterback in high school, but coaches saw a different future: "They switched me to receiver, and I just fell in love with it."

It turned out to be the right move, and now Legette could become a difference-maker for a team. His biggest obstacle over the next couple of months is beyond his control: stuck in one of the deepest classes of the draft. His quarterback, Spencer Rattler, knows what Legette brings, though.

"I think a guy like Xavier Legette is a great prospect," Rattler said this week. "He can go up and get it. He's physical at 225-230 (pounds), fast as I don't know what, and just a great dude to be around."

Asked what he brings, Legette added, "The ball in my hand, my speed, and my size."

While at South Carolina, Legette used his speed with the ball in his hand as a kick returner as well. Over three seasons, he returned 29 kicks for 767 yards (averaging 26.5 yards per return) with one touchdown.

Xavier Legette

Being underrated in such a deep class doesn't deter Legette (although with his 4.39 time in the 40-yard dash, and 40-inch vertical, he might not be underrated for long). He looks at someone like Puka Nacua, who was a fifth-round draft pick last year, then went on to set four different NFL records for rookies with the Los Angeles Rams, and thinks one thing: "That could be me. I could be that next guy."

The time between the college season ending and the NFL draft in late April can be the most intense time in a prospect's young career. The process includes finding an agent, something that was a Legette family affair, proving to teams what he can do at every point of the field, and most of all, proving to his family that every sacrifice, every long day, early morning, and stressful moment, was worth it to get to this point.

"I'm proving it to myself. But I've got a big family, and they want to see me be great and do great," Legette said.

He's the youngest of four, with two sisters and a brother, although he's quick to point out that at 6-1 and 221 pounds, "they can't baby me" and "I ain't no pet" either.

One sister lives in north Georgia. The other two are still in South Carolina. No matter where Legette is drafted, especially if it's close to home, their support will inevitably follow.

"We've got a great tight bond with each other," he added.

The start of Legette's career may have been tumultuous. But this Carolina kid not only found consistency last year but a belief that he can be as good as he wants to be at the next level. Now, the opportunity is before him to prove to his family, teammates, and friends in the San Francisco Bay, but primarily to himself, that he belongs in the NFL.

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