If only the folks at the weekly Rotary Club luncheon had any idea what was going on next door at Seawells on Monday afternoon.
Corey Jenkins and Erik Kimrey were regaling Jack McCathern with high school baseball stories. Jeff Grantz and Ron Bass were being teased for back-in-the-day hair (Grantz’s mop) and nicknames (Bass went by “Sunshine”).
There were others — Stan Spears, Tommy Suggs, Todd Ellis, Anthony Wright and Syvelle Newton to name a few of the 24 men who shared one specific trait in common:
They were all USC quarterbacks.
This ad-hoc congress of Gamecocks nostalgia was called to order by former USC assistant coach Clyde Wrenn, acting on behalf of the USC athletics department and the Gamecock Club. The goal was to mine members of the football program’s most-prominent position in the hope of strengthening the school’s outreach and enrich its tradition.
Those things did happen during the two-hour affair. But perhaps just as important, relationships were renewed, a mutual hatred of Clemson was rekindled and an ongoing love affair with Garnet and Black was reaffirmed.
McCathern, who played in the early 1960s, remains proud of his senior year, when USC beat Clemson at Death Valley for the first time since the end of Big Thursday.
“I tell you what,” he said. “It’s surreal when you walk off that football field up there and it’s quiet.”
That said, witnessing USC win for the fourth consecutive time against the rival this past season ranks up there with McCathern’s own personal highlight. The SEC East Division title, the consecutive 11-win seasons and the back-to-back bowl victories has the school in a position McCathern never thought he would see.
“It’s unreal. We’re enjoying it,” he said. “We were always optimistic, but I’ve never seen it like it is now.”
Jenkins lives and works in the heart of Clemson country these days. Regardless of fan affiliation, this much he knows:
“Football is huge here in the state of South Carolina,” he said.
Jenkins played professional baseball before quarterbacking the Gamecocks in 2001 and 2002. By then, the baseball delay had allowed Kimrey to catch up to him at the college level.
“In high school, I was a senior when Erik was a freshman,” Jenkins said. “He still talks about the ball I hit to him at third base and how scared he was.”
That scared little third baseman is now one of the most successful high school coaches in the state. Kimrey led Hammond to six consecutive state championships.
“I never had any doubt,” Jenkins said. “He was always one of the smartest guys I ever played with.”
The baseball story, though, was worth its weight in laughter Monday.
“Of course, everybody has stories,” Jenkins said. “It’s just kind of good to see guys and catch up for lost time.”
Jenkins has made it back for USC football games, always sitting in the student section, rather than going down on the sideline.
“I’m a fan now,” he said.
For these guys, what has happened off the football field has been as revelatory as what has taken place on it.
“To see all the things that has happened around here and inside the stadium,” Jenkins said. “For me, the most amazing thing is the players’ lounge. And I love where the training room is now. The fairgrounds have been done differently and the Farmer’s Market, wow, is totally different.”
Like McCathern, all the improvements on and off the field have allowed Jenkins to crow about his Gamecock roots deep in the heart of enemy territory.
“Up north of here in that Orange and White place, I have to hear about it every day,” Jenkins said. “They’ll say, we beat this, we beat that, a couple years back and I say, ‘Guys, look, from now on we’re just going to put your games on the History Channel.’
“I haven’t had to hear that much these last four years.”
Wrenn’s aim on Monday was to turn the collection of quarterbacks loose on their former teammates. To spread excitement for an alumni groundswell via word of mouth and hopefully have that transform into publicity and money for the university.
It shouldn’t be all that difficult if Jenkins is representative of that excitement. His 2-year-old son Jasiah already is in the fold.
“We toured the stadium a while back and next thing I know, he’s already committing,” Jenkins said with a laugh. “He’s only 2, but he’s already a Gamecock. He has a football in every room and sleeps with one every night.”
South Carolina hosted 24 former quarterbacks Monday, a first step toward better relations between the school and its former athletes in all sports. Hear below from Blake Mitchell, Anthony Wright, Corey Jenkins, Mike Hold and Ron Bass.
Years at USC: 2004-2007
Years at USC: 1995-98
Years at USC: 2001-02
Years at USC: 1984-85
Years at USC: 1973-74, 76-77