How to determine the best?
Is it career honors, career records, that one standout performance that keyed a crucial victory? Is it a banner or retired jersey hanging in the stadium? Is it because those are the names answered when asked, “Who was the greatest?”
Research plus interviews with former players, staff and fans have yielded a list of the Top 50 South Carolina football players of all time. Be sure to weigh in on where you agree or disagree with our list.
Note: Professional careers were not taken into account. The list reflects what each did at USC.
ANTONIO ALLEN, DB, 2008-11
One of the best ball-hawks in program history, Allen holds a record that may never be broken – a takeaway in seven straight regular-season games, three which he took for scores.
RICK SANFORD, DB, 1975-78
Sanford was a first-team All-American as a senior and really began the Gamecocks’ moniker of “Defensive Back University” – it helped that his Rock Hill roots became a pipeline.
A.J. CANN, OL, 2011-14
A rock on the left side, Cann stepped into the starting lineup as a freshman and only stepped out once in a 52-game career.
LOU SOSSAMON, OL, 1940-42
A second-team All-American in 1942, Sossamon was an All-Southern Conference center in each of his final two years.
TRAVELLE WHARTON, OL, 2000-03
A mainstay on the line (44 starts in 46 games), Wharton’s mammoth frame keyed USC’s rise to respectability under Lou Holtz.
CLYDE “MULE” BENNETT, SE/DE, 1951-53
An All-ACC and third-team All-American performer as a senior, Bennett played both ways for a team that won 17 games in three seasons.
ED PITTS, OL, 1957-59
One of the finest linemen in program history, Pitts was first-team all-ACC in his final two years and an All-American in 1959.
BOBBY BRYANT, DB/KR, 1964-66
A threat to return interceptions and kicks, Bryant was a first-team All-American in 1966 and still holds the school record for USC’s longest punt return for a touchdown (98, NC State, 1966).
TONY WATKINS, DB, 1991-94
An artist at breaking up passes (21 career, with six interceptions), Watkins also could have written a primer on wrapping ball-carriers. He ranks second in career unassisted tackles with 204.
T.J. JOHNSON, OL, 2009-12
He started every game for four years (53) and clogged the middle of the line for some of the winningest teams in program history.
DEL WILKES, OL, 1980-81, 1983-84
A backup who became a starter in 1983, Wilkes was described as “just now figuring out how good he can become.” That was apparent in 1984, when Wilkes posted a consensus All-American senior year as part of the “Black Magic” squad. The Gamecocks’ multitude of veer-offense running backs knew all they had to do was follow No. 62 into the hole and voila – wide holes and a clear path to the edge would appear. Wilkes wasn’t credited for any of the 2,761 yards the Gamecocks piled up that year, but perhaps he should have been.
ALEX HAWKINS, RB, 1956-58
One of only two Gamecocks to ever be named conference player of the year, Hawkins took the ACC’s prize in 1958 and was also named a third-team All-American. He ended with 1,490 career yards and led USC to 19 wins in three years – at the time, it was the second-most successful three-year period in program history, behind 20 wins from 1924-26.
KEVIN LONG, RB, 1973-76
One of the few 1,000-yard rushers in program history, Long was a pulling guard in high school and was brought to USC as a linebacker. Desiring to be like Jim Brown and not quiet about it, Long finally earned his shot in Jim Carlen’s split-veer system. Still ninth in career yards (2,372), Long’s greatest accomplishment was his 1,000-yard season in 1975. He and Clarence Williams toted the ball so much throughout that year that the two became interchangeable. Speaking of …
CLARENCE WILLIAMS, RB, 1974-76
Long did it first, breaking 1,000 yards in the 10th game of the 1975 season. Williams followed him a week later and ended with 1,073 for the season (60 behind Long) and 2,311 for his career (61 behind Long). Why, with lesser numbers, is Williams ahead of Long? Because of a lesser number – Williams had seven less career carries but still the same yards per carry average (5.3) as Long.
FRED ZEIGLER, WR, 1967-69
The Gamecocks’ first great receiver, Zeigler finished his career as the program leader in receptions and yardage. He caught a pass in 29 straight games, a record that stood until a Sharpe-er talent came along. Still ninth in history with 1,876 yards and seventh with 146 catches, Zeigler was a two-time all-ACC pick and helped win USC’s only conference title.
FRANK MINCEVICH, OL, 1952-54
An all-ACC guard his final two years and an All-American as a senior, Mincevich paved the way for 13 wins in 1953 and 1954. Helping Clyde “Mule” Bennett get loose or protecting Johnny Gramling (USC’s first 2000-yard passer), Mincevich seemed as immovable as a chunk of granite.
ROBERT BROOKS, WR/KR, 1988-91
One of the most graceful and versatile athletes in school history, Brooks came along at a period of air-it-out offense and superior playmakers – yet still made his mark right away. As a freshman against Georgia, Brooks hauled in a one-handed touchdown pass without the kind of stickum-laced gloves that are standard equipment these days. He went on to a solid four-year stint as kickoff returner and an outstanding career as a receiver, posting 2,211 yards (sixth) and 19 touchdowns, a record that stood until 2006.
WILLIE SCOTT, TE, 1977-80
Regarded as the best at his position in program history, Scott could catch – but he could also block, which came in handy in a backfield anchored by a Heisman Trophy winner. Scott caught 70 balls for 896 yards and seven touchdowns in a four-year career. The 6-foot-5, 240-pound Newberry native provided a punishing presence when clearing lanes over marauding defensive linemen and a perfect safety net for a quick-strike first-down pass.
STEPHON GILMORE, DB, 2009-11
A standout talent who posted nearly 200 tackles, eight interceptions, four recovered fumbles and 17 broken-up passes, Gilmore helped lead the defense in a period of prosperity. The Gamecocks won their only SEC East championship and posted their first 11-win season with him in the secondary, but they also became much more than a slight consideration for high-school recruits. Once Gilmore, a player that could have gone anywhere, committed to USC, it opened the door for other recruits, in-state and otherwise, to look the Gamecocks’ way. Some were the spine of future success.
THOMAS DENDY, RB, 1982-85
How’d he stand out among a roster stocked with running backs and an offense designed to run with anyone that could get the ball in their hands? By being the best of them. Dendy logged 2,767 yards at an eye-popping 5.6 yards per (the best since Carl Brazell had 5.7 in the early 1950s, and Brazell had less than half as many attempts), anchoring every team he played for, including the 1984 “Black Magic” season. Dendy led the team in rushing in all four of his seasons and still ranks fifth on the career chart.
COLLIN MACKIE, PK, 1987-90
The most prolific specialist in school history, Mackie’s 330 points still rank first with the closest competitor 79 points behind. Playing in an era of big offense, Mackie stepped right in by leading the NCAA with 25 field goals as a freshman. He only got better, departing USC with records for field-goal attempts, made field goals and consecutive field goals made (15).
MELVIN INGRAM, DE, 2007, 2009-11
Ingram rose to consciousness in 2010 with a team-high nine sacks. That led to a senior season that even those who watched it still can’t believe it – Ingram was a consensus All-American with 13.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks, and scored three touchdowns. Two came in one of the greatest single-game performances in school history – an epic 45-42 win at Georgia, where he scooped and scored off a fumble, and another where he sprinted his 276-pound body 68 yards off a fake punt.
SHELDON BROWN, DB, 1998-01
Brown could play anything but football got lucky. He stuck at defensive back and bloomed into a first-team All-American as a senior, where his last collegiate play was an interception that set up a game-winning field goal in the Outback Bowl. A USC Athletic Hall of Fame selection in 2015, Brown remains second in school history with 36 passes broken up.
BRYANT “MOOKIE” GILLIARD, DB, 1982-84
A player as fast as he was aggressive, Gilliard helmed the back line of the Black Magic defense. He finished his career with twin 100-tackle seasons and intercepted nine passes in 1984, including four in a game against Florida State.
JAMES SEAWRIGHT, LB, 1981-84
A punisher in the middle of the field, Seawright was a first-team All-American as the biggest and most ferocious “Fire Ant.” He’s fourth on the all-time tackle chart (384) and first in single-game stops – Seawright had an incredible 29 against NC State in 1984.
WARREN MUIR, RB, 1967-69
The key to USC’s only conference championship, Muir bulldozed his way to a fitting 969 yards in 1969. A magician at worming his way through the interior, Muir is 12th in career yards with 2,234.
JOHN ABRAHAM, LB, 1996-99
Despite playing for some wretched teams, “Big Bad John” was a master of the sack for four years (23.5). He never had less than four sacks in a season and led the team every year of his career. So immense was Abraham’s talent that he was a No. 13 pick in the draft – off an 0-11 team.
SIDNEY RICE, WR, 2005-06
A player who started the recent run of outstanding wideouts, Gaffney’s graceful gazelle dropped more jaws than Shark Week. If he would have played out his eligibility, it’s likely Rice would have set records that would have never been broken – he still ranks eighth with 142 receptions, fifth with 2,233 yards, tied for first with 23 receiving touchdowns and first with five TDs in one game.
JADEVEON CLOWNEY, DE, 2011-13
If there was a list of most intimidating Gamecocks, Clowney would easily rank first. As is, his contributions easily placed him in the Top 25. A menacing presence at end, Clowney proved his No. 1 prep prospect ranking was legit with 24 sacks in three years. He holds records in single-game sacks (4.5), single-season tackles for loss (23.5), sacks (13) and forced fumbles (nine) while placing second in career TFLs (47) and third in sacks.
HAROLD GREEN, RB, 1986-89
A standout runner in a passing system, Green toted 702 times for 3,005 yards, becoming one of the few to break 1,000 yards in a season. Third on the yardage list and first on single-season touchdowns (for 23 years), Green left school with 31 rushing touchdowns, tying him with a guy who won the most prestigious individual honor in the game.
TOMMY SUGGS, QB, 1968-70
An outstanding signal-caller who holds one of the most honored nicknames in program history – “Clemson Killer.” The little-’un from Lamar never lost to the Tigers, and was so revered that that accomplishment – a rare statement across USC athletics – overshadowed what else he did. Suggs ranks eighth with 4,916 passing yards, tossed 34 touchdowns and led the Gamecocks to the 1969 ACC championship.
MIKE MCCABE, OL, 1973-75
A Jacobs Blocking Award winner for his work laying waste to defensive lines, McCabe helped anchor the veer system that turned Kevin Long, Clarence Williams and Jeff Grantz into a relentless rushing trio. McCabe morphed from a standout guard to a standout center, snapping the ball to Grantz to begin an attack that spawned 18 wins in three seasons.
ANDREW PROVENCE, DL, 1980-82
A prototype of what all defensive linemen strive to be, Provence tallied 401 tackles, 26 sacks and 35 tackles for loss during his career. Each was a school record when he left and while each has been surpassed, Provence still appears in the top four of each category. An All-American as a senior, he is one of only two Gamecocks to record 400 tackles.
BRAD EDWARDS, DB, 1984-87
With sprinter’s speed and a dump truck’s brute force, Edwards sparkled in his final three years. As a senior, he had 130 tackles to lead the team, recorded 13 of his 21 career pass breakups and had eight interceptions to be named All-American. Mimicking a performance he had in the 1986 rivalry game, Edwards took one of two interceptions of Clemson’s Rodney Williams to the house in 1987, where he was welcomed by chants of “Rahhhhdddd-neeeee” from the Williams-Brice faithful.
STEVE WADIAK, RB, 1948-51
The Gamecocks’ fourth-leading career rusher (2,878) who averaged 5.3 a carry, Wadiak was a two-time all-Southern Conference selection who was an All-American as a senior. “The Cadillac” still holds the record for USC’s longest run from scrimmage (96 yards for a touchdown against George Washington, 1950). His retired number 37 is one of four in program history.
DOMINIC FUSCI, OL/DL, 1942-43, 1946
A two-way lineman nicknamed “Dynamite,” Fusci took a break from football to fight in World War II and after rejecting a professional offer, returned to play his senior year. New York by birth, Fusci often said he was meant to be at USC – the school’s initials were the middle three letters of his last name and one of his childhood friends was Frank McGuire. An outstanding player and representative of the Gamecocks’ brand, Fusci was elected to the Athletic Hall of Fame in 1993.
ERIC NORWOOD, DE, 2006-09
Good as an every-down linebacker and better as an every-down end, Norwood made it simple for his coaches – he rushed the passer. Nobody did it better in his four years, Norwood leading or tying for the team’s lead in sacks every season and never posting less than six per year. Norwood set a standard with 29 sacks and 54.5 tackles for loss, marks that were challenged but not passed by some kid named Clowney.
DICKIE HARRIS, DB/KR, 1969-71
Strong in the secondary and elite at kick return, Harris was a first-team All-American in 1970. His 2,767 return yards (kicks, punts and interceptions) may never be challenged and during that 1970 season, he returned one of each for a touchdown. The return records at USC are mostly his name repeated.
KENNY MCKINLEY, WR, 2005-08
He caught one pass in high school but thought he could make a go of it in college. It worked. McKinley, who caught balls as easily as he smiled, set the standard with 207 career receptions. With 2,781 career yards (second) and a record 43 straight games with a reception, he proved receivers didn’t have to be that big, that strong or that fast – hands and heart are plenty.
DAVE DECAMILLA, OL, 1968-70
A two-time All-ACC lineman, DeCamilla sturdied the line for USC’s 1969 ACC champions and like most linemen, always credited his backs. The backs, such as Warren Muir, heaped the praise right back on he and his mates. DeCamilla was one of the most technically sound linemen in program history, hardly ever missing assignments. He remembered only one false start in his career – on a punt.
STEVE TANEYHILL, QB, 1992-95
Brash, fearless and flamboyant, the ponytailed rookie took Gamecock Nation by storm as a freshman and never ceased the thunder. While USC only had one winning season with him, Taneyhill’s theatrics and powerful right arm made the Gamecocks one of the most exciting offenses in the country. He may not have had the wins but he has the records – second with 8,782 yards, first with 753 completions, first in passing touchdowns (62), three of the top four individual games in program history. And, he has the picture – defiant in the rain at Clemson, arms outstretched, signaling his victory.
STERLING SHARPE, WR, 1983, 1985-87
The name was only half as good as his talent. Sharpe turned receiver into a glamour position, opening the door for several understudies. While his records have been surpassed, Sharpe is still one of only four Gamecocks to have his number retired. And although his records were broken, he held marks for receptions (169), yards (2,497), 100-yard games (10) and consecutive games with a catch (34). Count the broken tackles in his epic 104-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Duke in 1985, and recognize.
BRANDON BENNETT, RB, 1991-94
The biggest mystery was how he was only listed at 205 pounds. Asking any of the defenders he plowed over or looking at his logcutter’s build make that number seem ridiculous. As powerful as he was fast, Bennett crunched his way to 3,055 yards in his career, second in program history, and had the best individual game the school ever saw (278 yards, East Tennessee State, 1991). He also delivered one of the most heart-stopping finishes the Gamecocks ever pulled off, using his high-jump training as a great athlete to break Georgia’s hearts in 1993.
TODD ELLIS, QB, 1986-89
The rumor was that groundskeepers hated him. Even though the footballs Ellis threw were far off the ground, the vapor trails they left scorched the playing surface. Joe Morrison scrapped the veer offense in favor of a run-and-shoot keyed by Ellis’ arm, and the results were grand. Ellis completed 747 passes for 9,953 yards and 49 touchdowns in his career, directing one of the most prolific offenses in the nation. The Gamecocks had three winning seasons with him under center and his name fights with Taneyhill’s for nearly every passing record.
J.D. FULLER, LB, 1979, 1981-83
A coiled spring in the middle of the field, opponents never knew what direction Fuller would come from – but knew he would come. Fuller departed with a school-record 405 tackles, breaking the 100-tackle plateau in each of his last three seasons. It wasn’t just the savage ferocity of his hits, it was the technical prowess – Fuller could read a ball-carrier and know when he was about to twist or stunt, and know exactly where to pop him to get him to the ground. Not many escaped him once he zeroed in on his target.
JEFF GRANTZ, QB, 1973-75
A dual threat, Grantz set up the split-veer system that spawned two 1,000-yard backs in 1975. He was no slouch himself, passing for 1,815 yards and 16 touchdowns while rushing for 473 and 12 more scores. It added to a magnificent legacy – Grantz still ranks 11th in passing yards (3,440) and 24th in rushing yards (1,577) while accounting for 53 touchdowns. He also was a pre-Taneyhill against the Gamecocks’ archrival – in as thorough a whipping as Clemson has ever absorbed, Grantz rushed for 122 yards, completed 9-of-12 passes with five going for touchdowns, orchestrated a 626-yard offensive day and USC scored TDs on every possession. He wasn’t surprised, predicting that the Gamecocks would do it the day before. Final score: USC 56, Clemson 20.
ALSHON JEFFERY, WR, 2009-11
The hands of McKinley, the razzle-dazzle of Sharpe and the athleticism of Rice rolled into one astoundingly special talent. Jeffery re-defined the record books and the position, the only USC receiver to break 3,000 career yards and leaving school with the mark for 100-yard games (12) and a tie for receiving touchdowns (23). His highlight film continues to impress – the dismayed expression on Nick Saban’s face when Jeffery hauled in a one-handed sideline catch while being held vs. the last reception of his magnificent career. You know, where he leaped over two Nebraska defenders to grab a Hail Mary, then have the presence of mind to turn, elude another defender and fall into the end zone. Mercy.
MARCUS LATTIMORE, RB, 2010-12
What an amazing young man … and he wasn’t a bad football player, either. Despite two horrific injuries that limited his career to college, Lattimore still ranks sixth with 2,677 career yards and first with 38 rushing touchdowns. The Gamecocks don’t win the 2010 SEC East championship without him, and his presence as a top recruit wanting to stay home helped get other high-profile prospects interested in USC. Lattimore only played 29 games for the Gamecocks but his impact, for the school, community and program, made him seem like a president. As crushing as it was to watch the play that ended his stellar career, the national outpouring of affection and sympathy afterward showed just how much of an impression Lattimore left on everyone he ever met.
CONNOR SHAW, QB, 2010-13
The Gamecocks have had quarterbacks with more talent, more strength, more pro potential. They have not had a better quarterback than the steely-eyed kid who refused to bow to any pressure. Shaw won more games (27) than anyone, never lost at home, led the greatest stretch in school history (42-11) and left pieces of his body across the SEC. How many times did he deny injury to finish? How many bleak situations did he switch by finding the one open window he needed to escape? Shaw’s numbers can be measured (fourth with 6,074 yards, first with a .655 completion rate, first with 74 touchdowns responsible for). His heart could never be.
GEORGE ROGERS, RB, 1977-80
He is Gamecock Football. All-time leading rusher, with Popeye numbers (5,204 career yards, 5.5 a carry, 31 touchdowns, three of the Top 10 single seasons in school history). His retired No. 38 on a stadium portal. A soon-to-be statue at the corner of a street that bears his name. And the greatest individual prize in the game, the Heisman Trophy. USC won 26 games in his career with an approach as brutally effective as it was simple – give George the ball. No one had a bigger impact on USC’s games, program or record books.
Who else could have made it? While you’ll have to stay tuned this week for the rest of the Top 50, several other candidates were nominated. In no particular order:
- LB Rodney Paulk, 2006-07, 2010-11: Played in more games (57) than anyone.
- RB/WR Ryan Brewer, 1999-2002: One of the greatest single-game performances in history.
- DB Chris Major, 1983-86: Career leader with 43 broken-up passes.
- QB/WR Syvelle Newton, 2003-06: Jack-of-all-trades who stabilized Steve Spurrier’s beginning.
- PK/P Spencer Lanning, 2007-10: Career leader in punting average.
- LB Jasper Brinkley, 2006, 2008: 107 tackles in 2006.
- OL Sam DeLuca, 1954-56: Third-team All-American.
- QB Stephen Garcia, 2008-11: Third in career passing yards; his best game dethroned No. 1 Alabama.
- QB Dan Reeves, 1962-64: Three-year starter with over 2,500 yards.
- QB Mike Hold, 1984-85: The Comeback Kid blessed with Black Magic.
- DL John LeHeup, 1970-72: First-team All-American.
- DL Kevin “Chief” Hendrix, 1985-88: Bruising lineman with 167 career tackles.
- LB Carl Hill, 1984-86: 132 tackles in 1984.
- WR Zola Davis, 1995-98: Fourth in career receptions and yardage.
- WR Jermale Kelly, 1997-2000: Seventh in career yardage, and caught “The Fade.”
- LB Mike Durrah, 1980-82: Third in career tackles (396).
- RB Jay Lynn Hodgin, 1972-74: 2,400 career yards and nearly 5 per carry.
- QB Johnny Gramling, 1951-53: First 2,000-yard passer.
- OL Randy Wheeler, 1993-96: 31-game starter at right tackle.
- PK Ryan Succop, 2005-08: Second in career field goals and hit two of the three longest in school history.