My favorite top 5 wide receivers in South Carolina history is a list of “no-brainers” based upon their performances in a Gamecock uniform.
At No. 5 is Robert Brooks (1988-91). A native of Greenwood, Brooks was a tailback for Greenwood High, but made an immediate impact at receiver his freshman year. He caught a team-leading 34 passes for 508 yards and four touchdowns in 1988, one of those a 97-yard TD reception, which at the time was the longest play from scrimmage in school history. He earned Freshman Wide Receiver of the Year by the Sporting News.
Brooks led the team in receptions (34) in 1989, in '90 (33), and saved his best for last with 55 catches as a senior. His total of 156 receptions (2,211 yds) ranks fifth on the USC career receiving list. He was also the kickoff return leader in 1988, '89 and '90, which included a 98-yarder for a TD against Virginia Tech in '88. Robert had four 100-yard receiving games and scored 19 touchdowns in his career.
He went on to play seven seasons with the Green Bay Packers and was a member of the Super Bowl XXXI championship team. Brooks was inducted into the South Carolina Athletic Hall of fame in 2003.
What I remember most about Brooks was that he was very quiet and humble, and he was the consummate team player. I recall the Gamecocks were 5-0 heading into that '88 game with Virginia Tech but trailed 21-10 at the half. His return of the second half kickoff sparked a comeback to a 26-24 victory over the Hokies.
He would go on to earn first-team honors from: the SEC coaches (All-SEC), the Associated Press and CollegeFootballNews.com. He was second-team All-SEC by Rivals.com, and he received honorable mention All-America honors from CollegeFootballNews.com. after his sophomore season.
No. 4 is Kenny McKinley (2005-08). McKinley's name is on just about every USC receiving record. He is tied for most receptions in a game (14), fifth in receiving yards in a season (968), second in receptions for a season (77), sixth in receiving TDs for a season (9), and ninth in yards per reception (17.2).
His USC career marks include: second in receiving yards (2,781), third in receiving touchdowns (19), and first in consecutive games with a reception (43). His 207 receptions placed third in conference annals, becoming just the fifth SEC player to amass more than 200 catches in a career. He also became the 12th player in league history to record more than 2,700 receiving yards (2,781).
Kenny was a fifth-round pick by the Denver Broncos in the 2009 NFL Draft. He played one season for the Broncos before his untimely death Sept. 20, 2010, from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
What I remember most about Kenny was that perpetual smile on his face. He loved playing football, loved his teammates and the University of South Carolina.
At No. 3 is Sterling Sharpe (1983-85-87). Sterling's name too, is splashed across the USC receiving records. He is 10th in receiving yards for a game (167), and eighth in receptions for a game (11). For a season he is third in receiving yards (1,106), third in receptions (74), and second in receiving touchdowns (10). For a career he is third in receiving yards (2,497), sixth in receiving TDs (17), third in 100-yard receiving games (10) and third in consecutive games with a reception (34). He had a school-record 104-yard kickoff return against Duke in '85.
Sharpe was a first-round pick by Green Bay in the 1988 NFL Draft. He led the NFL in receptions in 1989, '92, and '93, and in receiving TDs in '92 and '94. He was a five-time Pro Bowl selection, a three-time AP First-Team All-Pro, and a two-time AP Second-Team All-Pro. He was a Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame inductee in 2002.
Sharpe's No. 2 jersey was retired by South Carolina at the end of the 1987 regular season, making him only the second Gamecock to be granted this honor while still playing. He was inducted into the USC Hall of Fame in 2000.
What I remember most about Sharpe was his supreme confidence. He said when he came to Carolina it was a stepping stone to the pros, and it was indeed.
At No. 2 on my list is Sidney Rice, whose name appears in 11 USC receiving categories.
For a game, Sidney is fifth in receiving yards (191), fourth in receptions (12), and first in receiving touchdowns (5). For a season he is second in receiving yards (1,143) and fourth (1,090), fourth (72) and fifth (70) in receptions and first in receiving TDs (13).
For a career he is fifth in receiving yards (2,233), first in receiving TDs (23), 10th in yards per reception (15.7) and second in 100-yard receiving games (11).
Rice was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in the second round of the 2007 NFL Draft, and he was a 2009 Pro Bowl selection. He holds the NFL record for most touchdown receptions in a playoff game (3). He is currently playing for the Seattle Seahawks.
What I remember most about Rice was that Lou Holtz and recruiting coordinator Rick Stockstill were against signing him. They didn't think he was fast enough or athletic enough to play in the SEC. The first time I saw him at Carolina was in a pickup basketball game. When he raced down the court and put his arm up to his elbow in the basket, I knew he was a player.
No. 1 in my Top 5 is Alshon Jeffery, who holds the No. 1 spot in six receiving categories. He is first in average yards per reception for a game (37.0 yds), receiving yards for a season (1,517), receptions for a season (88), and 100-yard receiving games for a season (8). For a career he is first in receiving yards (3,042), 100-yards receiving games (12), and tied for first in receiving TDs (23).
Jeffery was the leading receiver for the Gamecocks in 2009 (46), '10 (88), and '11 (49). He was runner-up for the 2010 Biletnikoff Award, which is awarded to the best college wide receiver. At the beginning of the 2011 season he was named by ESPN as the best overall player in the SEC.
He was selected as the 13th pick of the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears. Alshon has 47 catches for 735 yards an three touchdowns.
Jeffery made so many big catches during his Carolina career it would take a page to list them all, but the most memorable one for me was the Hail Mary TD grab on the final play of the first half against Nebraska in the 2012 Capital One Bowl. He had four receptions for 148 yards in that 30-13 victory.