A fond farewell to the 2013 Gamecocks senior class (and NFL-bound juniors)

I’m writing this with a box of tissues next to me, and I anticipate I will need a lot of them. I hate having to say goodbye.

This year, USC had the smallest amount of seniors in the country, with just five: Connor Shaw, Jimmy Legree, Chaz Sutton, Ronald Patrick, and David Wilkins. They have 42 wins, meaning that for the fourth straight season, the senior class will exit as the winningest group in school history. Juniors Jadeveon Clowney, Victor Hampton, Kelcy Quarles, and Bruce Ellington will also depart from the Cocks in pursuit of the NFL.

This group of players has been truly fantastic to watch. They’ve brought a combination of physical ability, high character, and the will to succeed that has helped Carolina football continue to reach new heights. Watching them make their final plays on Wednesday, I was struck by just how much I – and Gamecocks fans as a whole – were fortunate to be able to watch these guys play for our team. All eight of them will be missed, but let’s look at two offensive and two defensive players who presence may be hardest to replace.

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Photo Credit: Rob Foldy-USA TODAY Sports

Shaw cemented his legacy in the record books by becoming the winningest QB in school history, but it was his heart, determination, and straight up warrior mentality that endeared him to South Carolina fans. Was he ever the most talented athlete on the field? Probably not. Was he the one willing to do whatever it took to get his team the victory? Without a doubt. Shaw came in after a tumultuous time for the program and quietly took care of business, quieting doubters and deserving more and more praise, even if he didn’t always get it from the national media. Watching him blow kisses to the crowd on senior night and after he was named the MVP of the Capital One Bowl (and got teary-eyed) was one of the most touching things I’ve ever seen.

Photo Credit: David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

Photo Credit: David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

Ellington came to the football team after originally being a member of the basketball team. Instead of choosing one or the other, he took on both sports, excelling both on the court/field and in the classroom, serving as a model student-athlete. Fans began to chant “BRUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCE” more and more as Ellington came up big in all situations, but really turned it on in big games. In last year’s Outback Bowl, he caught Dylan Thompson’s pass to score a touchdown with seconds left in the game, which gave Carolina the win. In the Capital One Bowl, Ellington again was a difference maker. He fought through double coverage and tall defenders to make some ridiculous grabs, including a one-handed one on 4th-and-7, bringing back memories of Alshon Jeffery’s big day in the same bowl game two years ago.

Photo Credit: David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

Photo Credit: David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

Clowney drew perhaps the most attention of any athlete to ever attend USC. He dominated on the field, even when he wasn’t directly involved in plays, and his name value alone helped vault the Gamecocks further into the national spotlight. Whether it was positive or negative, it was hard to go more than a day or two without hearing about No. 7 on ESPN, which was somewhat of a mixed blessing. Through it all, Clowney never caused problems, never let the chatter affect his demeanor. He was upbeat, positive, committed, and, above all, always thankful for his fans. Immediately following the Capital One Bowl, he said he already missed everything about playing for Carolina. The feeling’s mutual.

Photo Credit: Rob Foldy-USA TODAY Sports

Photo Credit: Rob Foldy-USA TODAY Sports

Hampton came in as a freshman with a handful of off-the-field problems and a questionable commitment level, but managed to turn things around, developing into a solid player and person. He was always energetic on the field, if perhaps a bit overzealous in his trash talking, and outside of football, he was engaged in the community, talking to kids and trying to set a positive example. His final big play was a  hit in the Capital One Bowl that knocked Wisconsin QB Joel Stave out of the game, and afterwards he posed on the field, a fitting image of his style on the field. After the game, Hampton lauded Shaw, Ellington, and Shaq Roland, partially unprompted, an appropriate example of the kind of teammate he came to be.

All eight guys will be missed next year and in future seasons. Their contributions to South Carolina football are numerous and varied, and I’ll be proud to watch them represent our university at the next level. Best of luck, guys, and thank you all for being Gamecocks. Forever to thee!

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