A program that had forever searched for an identity finally found one in 1980.
When George Rogers was called as the winner of the Heisman Trophy, South Carolina joined an elite club.
Rogers had competition for the award – notably, Georgia freshman Herschel Walker led the Bulldogs to the national championship – but Rogers’ 1,894 rushing yards propelled him to the top vote. He left USC with 5,204 rushing yards, the two best single seasons in USC history (he had 1,681 in 1979) and 27 100-yard games.
Nobody’s come close to matching his eye-popping totals … and to think he looked like a fullback when he reported to school. Jim Carlen promised Rogers he would play as a freshman, and he did, but his first two seasons were splitting time at tailback (where he still notched a 1,000-yard season as a sophomore).
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From then on, the Gamecocks were a Heisman school. The trophy has been a mainstay in the football offices, and Rogers always kept his under a stadium ramp for fans to pose with on game day.
Thirty-five years after he won the game’s greatest individual honor, former Rogers teammate Chuck Allen saw a project come to fruition – Rogers’ visage in a bronze statue now greets fans a few yards from the end zone he stepped into so often.
Befitting his wishes, the statue reflects Rogers’ favorite pose – not high-stepping into the end zone, not trucking some poor Tiger, but standing on the bench watching his teammates finish a win.
“I’m a team player,” Rogers said at the unveiling, “and those guys made me look good.”
He did OK himself, and for the university.