South Carolina will say goodbye to 17 seniors prior to Saturday’s game against South Alabama, and if some of the Gamecocks juniors want to go as well, coach Steve Spurrier will hold open the door.
Saturday is Senior Day, but the story at South Carolina, as at many schools this time of year, is about which underclassmen might be heading out the door along with the seniors. Spurrier does not try to change the mind of juniors who want to leave. In fact, he invites them to participate in a ceremony normally reserved for players who have exhausted their eligibility.
“I don’t try to talk them into staying,” Spurrier said. “If you talked a kid into staying that had a serious injury, that would be bad on the coaches, in my opinion. We just tell our players to be smart and try to see where you’re gonna be drafted. I’ll tell you, some of them don’t even care if they’re drafted or not, they want to leave. So, if they want to leave, and their mind’s set on that, that’s fine with us.”
Five juniors are scheduled to join the seniors before Saturday’s game – running back Mike Davis, tight end Drew Owens, wide receiver Matthew Harvey, long snapper Coleman Harley and quarterback Austin Hails. All the players involved in the ceremony will be recognized on the field before the game, along with their families.
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Davis, who was not available for comment Tuesday, is considering early entry into the NFL draft. He is South Carolina’s leading rusher and the sixth-leading rusher in the SEC this season with 87.5 yards per game and has rushed for more than 100 yards in four games. He finished fifth in the SEC in rushing last season with 98.6 yards per game.
“You’ll have to ask him what his plans are,” Spurrier said. “I haven’t really talked to him about it. I’ve always said any player that wants to leave, after three years, that that would be his decision.”
Junior running back Brandon Wilds said last week he would wait until after the season to decide whether to return to school next year or enter the NFL draft, and junior offensive tackle Brandon Shell also could be a candidate for early entry. However, neither player was on a USC-provided list of those planning to participate in Senior Day. Neither player was available for comment Tuesday.
A player’s inclusion in Senior Day ceremonies doesn’t guarantee they will leave early.
“We’ve had some to walk twice,” Spurrier said. “I remember Kenny Miles thought he was leaving and decided to come back, so he did it twice.”
The team’s actual seniors will leave South Carolina with either the second- or third-highest win total in school history. The 2013 seniors own the school record with 42 wins in their four seasons. This year’s group has 38 wins, which is tied with the 2012 seniors.
“They’ve been here, most of them, the last two, three years, so they’ve had wonderful careers, certainly,” Spurrier said. “This year has been some heartbreaking losses, as we know. But, we can’t do anything about it now but try to finish strong, so that’s what the challenge is for the entire team and, especially, the seniors.”
Coming into the season, this year’s seniors had 33 victories and a shot at the school record, but four consecutive conference losses in the middle of the season undid their hopes for a championship finale.
“They say it’s not what they wanted to happen, but they still are leaders on this team and they pick us up every day and every week, win or lose,” sophomore defensive end Gerald Dixon said. “They still want to be able to finish strong against South Alabama and Clemson.”
Senior spur Sharrod Golightly doesn’t expect the magnitude of the moment to hit him until kickoff Saturday.
“It’s been a long time coming, but I’m grateful for every moment I’ve had out there,” he said Tuesday. “(I want to) go out with a bang. Go out being a leader and just show them how it’s done and try to come out on top.”