It’s been a blast covering South Carolina football for the last two-plus years for SEC Country. Unfortunately, the ride ends on Saturday.
SEC Country is shutting down after June 30. Let’s take one last look at some of the highlights from the last 26 months…
As long as I’m covering college football, I’ll write about quarterbacks. That’s the position in the sport. Shoot, it’s the position in all sports, not just this one. During my first summer in Columbia, which set a record for most consecutive 100-degree days, I spent about an hour on the phone with Rusty Orth, whose son, Perry, was listed as one of South Carolina’s co-starters at quarterback.
Perry Orth got his chance to lead the Gamecocks that season; so did Brandon McIlwain. However, once Jake Bentley took the field, it was clear who gave Will Muschamp the best chance to win in Year 1 at South Carolina.
Former teammate Mike Wilson, who now covers Tennessee for knoxnews.com, wrote a pretty awesome piece about Bentley that season. This story was one of many written about Bentley on the site, but was unique in this market because it offered some insight from the folks who helped shape the now-junior quarterback.
A few months after that trip to Opelika, Ala., I ventured up to Murray, Ky., where I spent time with Jake’s older brother, Shuler, who just transferred to Murray State from Old Dominion. Shuler completed 57 percent of his passes for 1,789 yards with 13 touchdowns and 4 interceptions for the Racers last fall.
The entire Bentley clan was there that night. Bobby, the patriarch and running backs coach at South Carolina, was granted a day off from recruiting, so he could watch Shuler play in person. Older brother Chas Dodd, an assistant strength coach for the Gamecocks, was there, too. The matriarch, Paulette, along with twins Brooks and Emily, also made the long drive up to Kentucky.
As neat as it was to get to know those folks, it was one line from Shuler about Jake that sticks from that night.
“He’s a better athlete than people think he is. I think there will be a game, before he’s done, where he’ll win a game with his legs,” Shuler said.
Jake led South Carolina with 6 rushing touchdowns last season. His two scores helped seal a 7-point win over Vanderbilt. Two games later, he had two more rushing touchdowns in an 8-point win against Florida.
Those weren’t the only games that Jake’s legs helped South Carolina win last season.
The Jake moment that got the attention of a lot more people was the clip that went viral after the Tennessee game. Within minutes of posting the 20-second clip to Twitter, it caught fire. By the time I got to the interview room for post-game, I was already “Twitter famous,” according to GamecockCentral’s Collyn Taylor.
Sportsmanship, pass it on. pic.twitter.com/AJ2NmAnsM5
— Hale McGranahan (@HaleMcGranahan) October 14, 2017
That was a fun afternoon. But not as fun as the night watching Zion Williamson dominate two other 5-star prospects in front of South Carolina basketball coach Frank Martin. North Carolina’s Roy Williams was there, too.
Clemson coach Brad Brownell, an old friend, also was in the audience that night. A day later, Brownell’s and Martin’s teams played – Clemson won that game, but both eventually lost on Williamson, who signed with Duke.
You would’ve never known that Brownell and Martin were supposed to be mortal enemies. That night, while watching Williamson, they shared laughs, high-fives and — now knowing both guys — probably some good-natured ribbing.
When the coaches say good things about each other, it’s genuine. Those guys legitimately get along. I’d go so far as to say they’re friends.
South Carolina freshman quarterback Dakereon Joyner probably doesn’t consider ESPN’s Tom Luginbill a friend. At this point, I don’t blame him. Joyner deserves a shot to prove he can play quarterback at this level.
Bryan McClendon deserved a shot to prove he can call plays for South Carolina in the Outback Bowl against Michigan. Fortunately, for McClendon and all Gamecocks on that cold, rainy afternoon in Tampa, Fla., momentum was on their side in the second half.
McClendon now has a chance to impress on a full-time basis. He’s entering his first season as South Carolina’s offensive coordinator.
While that side of the ball has dominated the tone of this piece, there are two moments from the defensive side that sparked a fun debate last summer. I like to think I settled it. D.J. Swearinger’s hit was more impressive than Jadeveon Clowney’s.
When Israel Mukuamu committed to the Gamecocks, he wrote a heartfelt letter with SEC Country.
Those were just a handful of the more than 2,500 items penned for the site. Thanks for reading a few of them.