When asked last fall about his plans to apply for a sixth year of eligibility, South Carolina middle linebacker Rodney Paulk said he would play “until the wheels fall off.”
Thanks to a favorable NCAA ruling, Paulk now has two more years to keep his frame, wheels and everything else in good working order.
Paulk, who missed most of the past two seasons with knee injuries, was granted a rare sixth year that gives the Columbia native the chance to play this season and 2011.
He plans on taking advantage of the extra year.
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“This university has done well by me,” Paulk said Wednesday. “So I plan to give back to the university by coming back for a sixth year.”
Paulk was the Gamecocks’ fourth-leading tackler in 2007 as a sophomore. But USC decided to redshirt Paulk the following season when he was bothered by a knee injury the first four games.
Paulk returned last season, but tore the ACL in his right knee in the opener at N.C. State and had season-ending, reconstructive surgery a few weeks later.
Paulk learned about the NCAA’s decision Tuesday from head athletics trainer Clint Haggard.
“Unfortunately, things haven’t quite gone my way the last couple of years,” Paulk said. “But it seems like things are starting to go my way now. … My prayers were answered.”
The 6-foot, 226-pound Paulk sat out spring practice while continuing his rehabilitation, but said he is 100 percent healed and not limited in any of the Gamecocks’ summer strength and conditioning drills.
“I feel rejuvenated,” Paulk said. “I feel like I did a couple of years ago.”
Since playing his first game at USC as a 17-year-old, Paulk has appeared in 30 games, with 23 starts. The former Richland Northeast standout has 111 career tackles, including 74 solo stops.
Paulk is the second USC player to receive a sixth year under Steve Spurrier. Graduate assistant Andy Boyd, a Gamecocks’ tight end from 2002-07, also was granted a sixth year.
Paulk, who will turn 22 the day of the Georgia game, is set to graduate in December with a degree in marine biology. He plans to pursue a masters degree his sixth year.
“I came in and was the youngest on the team,” he said. “Now I’m going to leave as the oldest.”