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Beecher set to play for Liberty

COLUMBIA, SC  THURSDAY, AUGUST 28, 2008  ERIK CAMPOS---University of South Carolina #6 Tommy Beecher hurdles past a block in the North Carolina State University defense in the first quarter at Williams Brice Stadium in Columbia, SC on Thursday, August 28, 2008. Erik Campos/ecampos@thestate.com
COLUMBIA, SC THURSDAY, AUGUST 28, 2008 ERIK CAMPOS---University of South Carolina #6 Tommy Beecher hurdles past a block in the North Carolina State University defense in the first quarter at Williams Brice Stadium in Columbia, SC on Thursday, August 28, 2008. Erik Campos/ecampos@thestate.com Erik Campos

Tommy Beecher is not ready to walk away from football quite yet.

Encouraged to move on from South Carolina, Beecher plans to finish his career at Liberty after signing a scholarship letter with the Championship Subdivision school in Lynchburg, Va.

After Beecher completes his actuarial mathematics degree from USC in May, Liberty officials will file an NCAA waiver requesting that Beecher play his final season with the Flames. Because Beecher will pursue a graduate degree (Christian leadership) not offered at USC, he expects to be eligible this fall.

Beecher began the 2008 season as the Gamecocks’ starting quarterback against N.C. State and ended it on the scout team at the Outback Bowl. He was not asked to return to USC for his fifth season.

Beecher’s departure means the Gamecocks’ top two quarterbacks at the start of last season will end their careers elsewhere. Chris Smelley transferred to Alabama in January to play baseball but left open the possibility of playing football for the Crimson Tide.

Beecher, the first quarterback signed at USC by Steve Spurrier, said he is looking forward to “turning over a new leaf” at Liberty.

“Of course, I’d like to go out on a good note wherever I am,” Beecher said Tuesday. “I’m extremely thankful for the time I spent at South Carolina. I learned so many things. I’m thankful for the opportunity the coaches gave me here.

“I’m looking forward to competing next year and taking Liberty to a place they’ve never been before. I think it’s going to be a blast.”

Beecher drew interest from several schools, but he wanted to go to a team that had a good chance to make the playoffs and needed a quarterback.

The Flames, who went 10-2 last season, are looking for a replacement for Brock Smith, a three-year starter at quarterback.

“We believe that Tommy will be a great fit at Liberty University,” Flames coach Danny Rocco said in a release. “He will add significant value to our football program, as well as to our student body. Tommy and his family have shown great class and professionalism throughout this process. We look forward to welcoming the Beecher family into our program.”

Spurrier named Beecher the starter following spring practice, but he held the job for only one game. In his first career start, the right-hander from Concord, N.C., was benched after throwing four interceptions and sustaining a concussion and shoulder injury in a 34-0 win against the Wolfpack.

He saw mop-up duty against UAB and was buried on the depth chart. Several times during the season, Spurrier said Beecher had lost his desire to play.

Beecher declined to discuss Spurrier’s comments. Pam Beecher, the player’s mother, said her family harbors no hard feelings toward Spurrier, who coached her two brothers at Duke.

“We’re so grateful for all that happened down there and for coach Spurrier giving him the opportunity. We don’t have anything bad to say,” she said. “I think all that happened down there prepared him for this.”

Following the Outback Bowl, USC team chaplain Adrian Dupre encouraged Pam Beecher to get in touch with Liberty athletics director Jeff Barber, the former director of the Gamecock Club. She was uncertain whether her son would be interested since he had an internship with Colonial Life and was exploring job opportunities.

But as Beecher began to speak with Liberty’s coaching staff, including ex-Clemson quarterback Brandon Streeter, the thought of postponing the 9-to-5 grind for another season of football grew on him.

“I’ve got the rest of my life to work,” said Beecher, who will graduate with a 3.8 grade point average. “Football’s a great game and I like playing it, so I might as well take advantage of this one year that I’ve got left.”

Reach Person at (803) 771-8496.

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