Gamecocks graduate with an eye on the future

dcloninger@thestate.comDecember 16, 2013 

Quarterback Connor Shaw was among those who graduated at USC's commencement exercises on Monday at Colonial Life Arena. More than 2,700 students were expected to earn degrees.

TIM DOMINICK — tdominick@thestate.com Buy Photo

  • USC GRADUATES

    Twenty-six Gamecock student-athletes have earned their degrees and graduated this semester:

    BASEBALL: Chase Vergason

    MEN’S BASKETBALL: Carlton Geathers

    CHEERLEADING: Hunter Fowler, Mallory Sloan

    FOOTBALL: AJ Cann, Ryland Culbertson, Bruce Ellington, Aldrick Fordham, Sharrod Golightly,Ronald Patrick, Connor Shaw, David Wilkins

    MEN’S SOCCER: Stephen Anderson, Blake Brettschneider, Mike Mangotic

    WOMEN’S SOCCER: Christine Watts, Rae Wilson

    SOFTBALL: Julie Sarratt

    WOMEN’S SWIMMING & DIVING: Meghan Brockington, Jordan Gibbs, Matea Peteh

    MEN’S TRACK & FIELD: Hubert Maxwell

    WOMEN’S TRACK & FIELD: Kierre Beckles, Adriana Pereira Chaves, Tatianna Fisher, Meredith Mill

    MEN’S TENNIS: Harry Menzies

Connor Shaw looked lost.

Having run from All-American defenders in some of the toughest college football venues in the country, Shaw never looked clueless. Always ready to take charge, commanding South Carolina to win after win, the best thing about Shaw was he was never, ever rattled.

On Monday, he gazed at brimming Colonial Life Arena, hordes of black-gowned students milling about, with the expression of a forgotten puppy. Finally, he asked a garnet-clad usher where he was supposed to sit.

Graduation Day can take its toll on even the toughest competitors, which it certainly did on Monday.

“It’s bittersweet,” USC’s all-time winningest quarterback said. “It’s been a long time coming.”

Shaw and several other athletes graduated on Monday and prepared to begin the next phase of their lives. Some will have an opportunity at the next level, some will have the chance to keep playing at USC and take graduate studies.

All will join a swelling number of people who attended many of the same classes and walked on many of the same bricks at the Horseshoe as they did.

“It’s amazing right now. It really hasn’t hit me yet,” said guard A.J. Cann, who earned his degree in sociology and saw the quarterback he was charged with protecting shake President Harris Pastides’ hand about 800 names before he did. “It’s going to be crazy, once I start that walk. I’m nervous right now. To tell you the truth, it makes me feel a lot more comfortable, seeing the guys I’m used to practicing with march with me.”

Cann has one more year of eligibility and said he plans to use it, although he has submitted paperwork to the NFL to see what his draft status is.

“I think I’m going to sit in school for another year and get better,” Cann said. “I haven’t gotten my grade back yet. But yeah, I think I’ll be coming back.”

It’s the same situation as receiver Bruce Ellington, who also graduated with a degree in sociology. Ellington earned his degree in three and a half years, while playing two sports for the majority of his time at USC.

Ellington will be playing at the CLA Tuesday night for the basketball team, and will continue to wait for his grade from the NFL. That will determine if he uses his final year of football eligibility.

“Right now, I don’t know what I’m going to do,” he said. “I’m waiting on my papers to get back from the draft to see what round they’re talking about. Some people are telling me I had a great year.”

Cann and Ellington have options, but Shaw will play his final game when the Gamecocks participate in the Capital One Bowl on Jan. 1. After that, it’s back near his Georgia hometown.

“I’m going to go to Atlanta to train for the NFL Combine and the draft, hopefully get an opportunity there,” Shaw said. “I’ll be training with a guy named Chip Smith. I’ve got an opportunity coming and I’m going to take advantage of it.”

Shaw has mentioned that he might want to try the military if the NFL doesn’t work out, but he’ll give the NFL a shot first. He’ll concentrate solely on football until the NFL Combine and then (hopefully) the draft, and see what happens.

“I’m happy to be where I’m at,” Shaw said. “I’ve looked hard into that, the Air Force. I would sit down and talk with a lot of people. If the NFL’s not there, then I’ll definitely think about going into the Air Force.”

Monday, though, was about all that he accomplished. The expression of wonderment settled into the familiar confidence once he saw Cann, Ellington, Ronald Patrick and the rest of his teammates around him.

“Honestly, the thing I’ll remember the most is the guys I came in with, the guys I hang out with,” Shaw said. “They’re brothers.”

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