Tampa trip tugs at USC fans’ hearts, in more ways than one

nwhite@thestate.comDecember 31, 2012 

— The football players aren’t the only ones wearing garnet and black while representing South Carolina this week at the Outback Bowl.

Sunday afternoon, the Carolina Band, the Coquettes dance team and the USC cheerleaders took their turn in the spotlight — or, in this case, the sunlight — at the Clearwater Beach Day festivities along with their counterparts from Michigan.

Stephanie Zeady, a senior captain on the cheerleading squad, relishes the chance to support her school over the numerous pep rallies.

“Being able to come to the beach and cheer on the Gamecocks is an experience that everybody was looking forward to. It’s an opportunity to bond for us,” said Zeady, a Greenville native. “And we get to do things that not everybody gets to do. We get to see everything up-close behind the curtain.”

With many USC and Michigan fans on hand for the day’s activities on the sands along the Gulf Coast waters, the 325-member band decked out in “Fear The Bird” T-shirts first performed along with the 22-member Coquettes dance team. After their mini-show, they all marched off the beach to a chant of “Let’s go, Gamecocks.”

Jayme Taylor, the band’s assistant director, said weeks of preparation lead up to getting the band to a bowl site, and just like the football players, the band members will engage in some intense practice of their own as they prepare for Tuesday’s pre-game and halftime shows.

“It’s a great time for them,” Taylor said. “They get to support the football team, which they love, and get the opportunity to perform many times.”

The bowl trips are old hat for Robby Barton, a graduate student who — as a baritone player — is performing in his fifth consecutive bowl game. The Lexington native has enjoyed the visits to Tampa, Birmingham, Atlanta and Orlando.

“It’s just great to go to the bowl game and see all the different stadiums,” he said. “And it’s great to play in front of all these people who have never seen us before.”

Meredith Melven, a junior from Irmo on the Coquettes dance team, likes getting together with all of her good friends after the end of the fall semester on a road trip like this one.

“We’re like a family,” she said. “We’re really close, and it’s nice to come back and be a part of the school and be a part of this experience.”

Performing in front of a large crowd like the one she’ll see at Raymond James Stadium isn’t so bad either.

“Unless you’re a rock star, there’s no other opportunity to be in front of that many people,” Melven said.

As part of the day’s activities, a number of non-football competitions took place. The USC cheerleaders, however, lost the tug-of-war battle to the Michigan cheerleaders. The Gamecocks won the women’s challenge but dropped the men’s and co-ed tugs.

Junior defensive end Ashton Holmes, one of a smaller contingent of football players on hand, got the Gamecocks back in the win column, though, by defeating his Michigan challenger. Holmes ate eight small pies in two minutes to big cheers from the USC faithful.


1 p.m. Tuesday, Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla. TV: ESPN; radio: WNKT-FM, 107.5

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