Kelcy Quarles and his father, Buddy, share a love of football. But their passion for the game can't surpass the devotion they have to each other.
"People see us and say we look like brothers," Kelcy said. "We're real tight."
Like a lot of dads, Buddy served as Kelcy's first coach and still helps guide his son's football fortunes.
So it's no shock that Kelcy, a 6-foot-5, 270-pound defensive lineman from Greenwood High, signed a national letter of intent Wednesday with the University of South Carolina, where Buddy played as a 6-foot-4, 330-pound offensive lineman for Joe Morrison's teams from 1984-87.
Kelcy made the decision at the end of his junior season and stuck with it. Along the way, he has developed into one of the top players in USC's class. He was selected to play in the Shrine Bowl and the All-American Bowl in San Antonio. A Parade All-American, Kelcy is ranked by Rivals as the No. 9 defensive lineman and No. 91 player nationally.
"He has done things I never experienced," Buddy said. "Me and my wife (Mattie) are proud of him."
Buddy is as upbeat about Kelcy's football prospects as he is about his own health issues. For the past decade, he has battled serious medical conditions. Diabetes led to the amputation of his left leg below the knee seven years ago, while the loss of kidney function has kept him on dialysis the past six years.
Yet he refuses to dwell on his condition, calling his prosthetic leg "better than the good one" while staying positive about receiving a new kidney in the coming year. Despite being at home on disability, he chooses to view his situation "a blessing" because it has allowed him to spend more time with Kelcy while helping him through the recruiting process.
Kelcy liked that his dad passed along his love of USC. He remembers Buddy pulling out scrapbooks from his playing days, and his father taking him to his first game at Williams-Brice Stadium.
Buddy never envisioned his son achieving this level of high school success as he worked with him as a youngster in their yard. As a former offensive tackle, Buddy showed his defensive-minded son the ins and outs of how guys on his side of the line think, even as Kelcy joked about how he'd get around his dad if they both were in their prime.
"We'll be in the front yard showing him this and that. He'd say, 'I'd wear you out,' and I'd say, 'I don't know about all that,'" Buddy said. "I'm just happy to show him the tricks of the trade."
Kelcy credits his father for making him the player he is.
"I say I could whip him and stuff, but he basically taught me all the fundamentals," Kelcy said. "He taught me every position on the field."
Greenwood coach Gene Cathcart, who took over for Shell Dula last season, was pleased with the polished product he inherited in Kelcy. The big lineman used his speed and strength to register 77 tackles, 15 1/2 for loss, and seven sacks during the Eagles' 9-4 season, which ended with a second-round playoff loss. Not only did Kelcy have the ability to plug the middle, he had the quickness to run down backs from behind.
"His size, speed and quickness are things he's been blessed with, which go along with his love for the game and his work ethic," Cathcart said. "He's a rare guy who can make plays all over the field. That's what is unique about him."
Cathcart notes that Kelcy, who is hoping to receive his qualifying score after retaking the SAT two weeks ago, is a solid citizen who represented Greenwood with distinction in the two all-star games. He believes Kelcy's early decision to attend USC helped take the pressure off for his senior year.
"The fact that he knew where he wanted to go, combined with his dad playing there and him growing up a fan, gave him peace of mind," Cathcart said. "He relaxed and put together the kind of season that he was capable of having."
Making that decision came at the advice of Buddy, who understood how all-consuming the recruiting game can be.
"I told him when this thing gets rolling, you're going to get so tired of the calls that you'll want to throw your phone in the trash can," Buddy said.
Kelcy remained comfortable with his choice throughout the process, although he did entertain a few thoughts along the way about opening his recruiting again. He came away convinced that USC was the place for him after his mid-January official visit.
Kelcy is ready to jump right in next season when he arrives in Columbia. He has no doubt he can help one of the SEC's top defensive units.
"I'm not waiting my turn," he said. "I'm busting my tail right now. With Clifton Geathers leaving, I'm ready to get my pads dirty. I'm pushing myself to compete when I get to South Carolina. I will be on the field making plays."
That confidence is what helped him compete against some of the country's top players in San Antonio, which he called his first taste of a collegiate-type atmosphere. It also was airplane trip.
Those thrills almost equal what his father has felt the past few years as Kelcy developed into a big-time player headed to his father's alma mater.
"I've enjoyed it as much as he has," Buddy said.
Reach White at (803) 771-8643.