You knew Mason Zandi was getting nostalgic when he went so far as saying it was a privilege to stand in front of reporters and answer questions.
But the South Carolina senior offensive tackle was staring down his last game on the William-Brice Stadium field. When that fact hits players can come at different times, sometimes during the week or in the game or afterward. Zandi knew the exact moment it did.
“It was yesterday,” Zandi said Tuesday. “I was actually driving over the Blossom Street bridge. I was driving, listening to 107.5. I was like, ‘Holy cow, man, this is my last game.’ I love it here, man. I don’t want to leave. Don’t make me leave!”
There aren’t many Gamecocks players who could call themselves as blessed as Zandi.
He grew up in nearby Chapin, loving South Carolina football. He got his scholarship offer before he’d played a down at offensive tackle (the hulking Zandi played defensive end and punter). He almost broke into tears when he was offered.
He knows he was a project, someone offensive line coach Shawn Elliott had to pour time and energy into. He’s been lucky to have Elliott around for five years, as the coach was the only staffer to be retained through last winter’s coaching change.
Zandi spent three years on the edges, redshirting and then playing special teams and some at tight end. He took the starting right tackle spot in 2015, then transitioned to the left side as the only senior on the offensive line this season. All told, there are a lot worse ways for things to play out.
He promised he’ll enjoy every second, even as they tick down.
“I loved this place before I came here,” Zandi said. “Before I was playing here, before I invested my life into this program and university, I loved it.”