This excerpt from “100 Things South Carolina Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die” by Josh Kendall is printed with the permission of Triumph Books.
For more information, please visit www.triumphbooks.com/ 100ThingsSouthCarolina
The modern line traces its roots back to Terry Cousin, but the history goes back farther than that.
Bobby Bryant, who weighed 140 pounds when he graduated from high school in Macon, Ga., is the Godfather of one of the most impressive lineages in college football history. Bryant was drafted in the seventh round of the 1967 NFL-AFL Draft and played 13 seasons for the Minnesota Vikings, starting a streak of South Carolina defensive backs filling up NFL rosters that hasn’t stopped.
Rick Sanford, now a Columbia chiropractor and talk radio host, continued the trend in the modern era of the NFL. Sanford was the first South Carolina player at any position to be selected in the first round (by the New England Patriots) of the NFL draft. It figures he was a defensive back.
Sanford was taken No. 25 overall in the 1979 NFL Draft and went on to play seven seasons in the NFL, six of those with the Patriots.
In all, 27 South Carolina defensive backs have been selected by the NFL, with 13 players chosen since 2002. Earl Johnson, Norman Floyd, and Brad Edwards, who played nine years and nearly won a Super Bowl MVP trophy, followed in the 10 years after Sanford.
Things really took off in 1997 when Terry Cousin signed a free agent contract with the Chicago Bears. Cousin played 12 years in the NFL, starting 69 games and making Gamecocks defensive backs a hot commodity.
“If you want to play at the next level and you play in the secondary, it should be a no-brainer,” said former Gamecocks cornerback Sheldon Brown, who was taken in the second round of the 2002 NFL Draft. “If I was a parent, with the success rate of the DBs leaving here and going there, I would definitely want to send my kids (to South Carolina.) It’s a tradition.”
From 2004 through the 2012 season, Brown started at least 14 games each season for the Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns. NFL scouts and general managers know to look for South Carolina products in the secondary, according to Brown.
“Without a doubt, especially right now in this era because you have one after another that is learning from the guy in front of him,” Brown added.
While safeties such as Ko Simpson have gotten into the mix, too, South Carolina cornerbacks have carried most of the weight of the tradition. In 2011, five of the NFL’s 64 starting cornerbacks were South Carolina graduates — Brown, Johnathan Joseph, André Goodman, Captain Munnerlyn, and Dunta Robinson. Chris Culliver was a rookie backup that season, as well.
In 2012, Gamecocks cornerback Stephon Gilmore was selected No. 10 overall by the Buffalo Bills. Fred Bennett, Stoney Woodson, Emanuel Cook, Deandré Eiland, Willie Offord, Arturo Freeman, and Lee Wiggins have been part of the history in one form or another.
“It just shows the type of players that the university produces year in and year out,” Joseph said. “I think it’s always going to keep going.”
The standard set by past players at the position is one of the reasons Joseph thinks the streak won’t stop anytime soon.
“That is a big factor in it. A lot of the reason I came here is because of Sheldon Brown and Dunta Robinson,” Joseph said.
“Those guys kind of paved the way for me. It’s always about playing at a high level and being accountable on and off the field and setting a good example for the younger guys and being a role model. They schooled me and taught me the ropes.”
Goodman was drafted in the third round in 2002 and played 10 years in the NFL before taking a job mentoring South Carolina student athletes.
“The fact that these guys have been able to take this position at this university and then transition it to the pros and have great success like they have had, there is a great sense of pride that comes along with that, something (recruits) start to recognize when they hit this campus,” Goodman said. “Those are the guys I am rooting for on a regular basis because it gives you a sense of, ‘I am still playing the game through them.’ ”