For as long as there have been helicopter parents and hometown schools, there has been a segment of high school students who extol the benefits of going away for college.
They have nothing on Justin Sorensen.
After accepting a scholarship offer from South Carolina five years ago, the native of Parksville, British Columbia, packed his bags and headed off for a different country, culture and, most significantly, a different climate. A common complaint among first-time visitors to the Southeast is, ‘It’s not the heat; it’s the humidity.’
For the 6-foot-7, 316-pound Sorensen, it was both.
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“The worst thing when I first came down here was the heat. I came down here in July and the humidity just killed me that first month,” Sorensen said. “I never stopped sweating. I was so hot the first month I was down here.”
But Sorensen survived the sticky, 100-degree days, embraced the Southern hospitality and found a home on the Gamecocks’ offensive line, where he became a three-year starter at right tackle.
While Sorensen prepares for a career in the NFL or the Canadian Football League, he has no regrets about choosing a school nearly 2,500 miles away from his hometown.
“I’ve never been one to get homesick. Wherever I go, I’ve always enjoyed myself because I make friends wherever I go,” Sorensen said. “I never got homesick. I love it down here.”
When Sorensen arrived in Columbia in the summer of 2004, he was one of three Canadians on the Gamecocks’ roster – a pipeline from the Great White North that former Gamecocks offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo, a member of Lou Holtz’s staff, tapped into.
Sorensen also played basketball and lacrosse at his high school on Vancouver Island, the largest island on the west coast of North America located about 200 miles northwest of Seattle.
Like every other good, redblooded Canadian male, Sorensen also played pick-up ice hockey growing up. He cut an imposing figure at the local rinks, measuring about 6-9 or 6-10 in skates.
“I actually skate pretty well. Even though I’m big, I’m pretty good on skates,” he said. “Where I’m from, everybody can skate.”
But Sorensen’s first love was football. And with the help of Ron Dias, a Canadian recruitnik who helps place Canadian players at U.S. schools, Sorensen received scholarship offers from USC, Toledo, Western Michigan and Central Florida.
Since his goal was to play in the SEC, Sorensen’s choice was easy.
His acclimation to the heat index that first summer? Not so much. But the people who greeted him on campus and around the city helped the transition.
“The thing that surprised me was how friendly everybody was down here. Everybody’s just so friendly when they first meet you.”
After redshirting as a freshman, Sorensen gradually worked his way up the depth chart before cracking the starting lineup midway through his third season. He has been there since.
Though he admits to not having the quickest feet, Sorensen has a big frame and is athletic enough to ride faster defenders past the pocket to give Gamecock quarterbacks a chance to step up and throw.
Plus, he’s durable. The LSU game marked his 26th consecutive start, the longest streak on the team.
“I’m just happy that I’m still playing in every game,” he said, laughing.
But he must be doing something right: Sorensen’s home-province B.C. Lions drafted him in the first round of this year’s CFL draft, a pick chronicled by several newspapers in British Columbia.
And though his hometown friends “thought it was pretty cool” that Sorensen was a first-round pick, he decided to return to USC for his fifth year, work on a second major (he graduated in December with a degree in retail management), and take his chances in April’s NFL draft.
“I want to play football for as long as I can. Whatever I’ve got to do to accomplish that is what I’m going to do,” Sorensen said. “I know I can go back and play in the CFL, but I want to try to get in the NFL.”
The B.C. Lions retain Sorensen’s CFL rights, so he could return home if he does not land with an NFL team. Wherever he winds up, Sorensen said Columbia would always be a special place for him, heat and all.
“I’ve just met so many lifelong friends down here and had such a good time. I’ll be coming back here for the rest of my life,” Sorensen said. “All the football, all the people I’ve met – it’s just been such an awesome time. I never would’ve wanted to go anywhere else.”