When he arrived at South Carolina, Gamecocks linebacker Eric Norwood remembers meeting an undersized defensive lineman with an oversized heart.
Lemuel Jeanpierre helped Norwood with his defensive line assignments, pointed him in the right direction to get to class, even gave him candy on road trips.
Three years later, Jeanpierre has gained about 60 pounds, changed positions a couple of times and played for four position coaches. But Norwood said Jeanpierre remains the same good guy and team leader he was when he befriended Norwood in the fall of 2006.
"I saw what he did since he's been here. He's just taken advantage of everything," Norwood said. "He's had to change positions, switch positions twice, four position coaches, then he still manages to do his thing off the field as far as graduating. He's accomplished a lot. He's come a long way from where he was when he first moved to O-line to where he is now."
Jeanpierre, the Gamecocks' starting center, will serve as one of four captains today against Vanderbilt in place of receiver Moe Brown, who is being held out after sustaining a concussion at Alabama.
Teammates say it is a deserving honor for Jeanpierre, a fifth-year senior who is one of four remaining players from Steve Spurrier's first recruiting class at USC.
"He plays hard. He's one of the team leaders," defensive lineman Ladi Ajiboye said. "He should be a team captain. He is this week, but he should have been a team captain (all season). He works hard, as hard as anybody else on the team."
Jeanpierre has earned teammates' respect with his perseverance on the field and his serious approach to academics. The son of a university professor (his mother is in the education department at Central Florida), Jeanpierre graduated last December with a degree in retail - his father's professional field.
While Jeanpierre has taken a couple of graduate courses in sports and entertainment management, he envisions a career in coaching.
"Coming out this year, now I know three positions on offensive line. I still can learn the defense really easily," Jeanpierre said this week. "I feel like I'm more prepared because in my future when I'm done with football, I actually want to get into coaching. That actually helps me out because now I know both sides of the ball."
Jeanpierre came to USC as a defensive tackle. After redshirting in 2005 in Spurrier's first season, Jeanpierre played in all 13 games in 2006. He started USC's Liberty Bowl victory against Houston, finishing with a season-high five tackles and forcing a fumble.
He agreed to move to offense the following spring, and started 10 games at guard during the 2007 and '08 seasons. A knee injury sidelined him for the final four games of last season.
But he returned for his final season this year as one of only nine seniors, tied with Duke for the second-fewest in the nation. The 22-year-old said he realized he was nearing the end of his career when he entered Williams-Brice Stadium for an August scrimmage and noticed the new wraps honoring the program's best players, coaches and teams.
"Our first scrimmage, we walked in there and the stadium's empty. I'm looking around at all the new changes - things that weren't there when I first came," he said. "When I first came, I'm a 245-pound defensive end from Orlando, Florida. Now I'm an offensive lineman, 300-plus pounds."
As a defensive lineman, the 6-foot-4 Jeanpierre played for former USC defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix and current line coach Brad Lawing. He is on his second offensive line coach after Eric Wolford replaced John Hunt during the offseason.
Jeanpierre has improved his blocking substantially since facing Glenn Dorsey, LSU's All-American defensive tackle and the 2007 Outland Trophy winner, in one of his first starts at guard.
"When he played against Dorsey, he was just a rookie in there," Norwood said. "Now, he's getting polished and getting better game by game."
And while he is proud of his on-field accomplishments, Jeanpierre hopes he is remembered for more than football.
"When I first came here, I wanted to try to do my best to leave a legacy," he said. "So when I left they knew who I was, going down the road as a model student-athlete."
Norwood believes Jeanpierre's legacy is secure.
"He just makes you feel at home," Norwood said. "Just a real good dude."