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Geathers' game has NFL look, star's name

Clifton Geathers has an NFL surname and a frame that looks perfectly suited for playing on Sundays.

Lately the South Carolina defensive end has been performing like a NFL prospect, as well - although the junior insists his pro payday can wait.

Geathers, the brother of Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Robert Geathers Jr. whose father and uncle also played in the NFL, finished the regular season on a roll after a rough start. The 6-foot-8, 281-pound Geathers is third on the team with 3.5 sacks - all of which came during the second half of the season after Geathers came back from a suspension and nagging injuries.

Geathers was suspended for the N.C. State opener following his arrest on disorderly conduct, drunkenness and resisting arrest charges that stemmed from an August incident outside a Vista nightclub.

Geathers sustained a cracked right orbital bone the night he was arrested and said his vision was blurred when he returned to the team the following week against Georgia.

"I'm more healthy," Geathers said recently. "The first couple of games, I wasn't able to see - double-vision, things of that sort."

Geathers lost his starting job during his suspension when redshirt freshman Devin Taylor had a stirring debut in USC's 7-3 win against the Wolfpack. Taylor forced a fumble on his first college snap to set up the Gamecocks' lone touchdown, blocked a punt and led USC with three tackles for loss.

Geathers did not reclaim his starting role until the sixth game against Kentucky. But he held on to it by playing the best football of his career.

The Georgetown native had four tackles against Kentucky, and came up with a sack the following two weeks against Alabama and Vanderbilt. The sacks were particularly satisfying for Geathers.

"I wasn't on the pass rush for a little while. They put me back on there," Geathers said. "I had to make a statement and show them that I really can rush the passer. That's what I did."

Geathers said his play improved with his health, citing knee, quadriceps and back injuries that had slowed him. USC defensive line coach Brad Lawing said Geathers was "dinged-up a little bit," but believes Geathers' resurgence can be traced to the Bluff Road practice fields.

"I've heard that word 'gamer' all my life, and I've never seen one. You're going to play like you practice," Lawing said. "He was practicing really well toward the end of the season."

Assistant head coach for defense Ellis Johnson said Geathers stepped up his play after defensive end Cliff Matthews injured his shoulder against Tennessee. With Matthews limited against Florida, Geathers harassed Gators quarterback Tim Tebow all game, finishing with career highs in sacks (1 1/2) and tackles for loss (4 1/2).

Geathers "finally got some confidence in himself, did some things that he's probably never done before," Johnson said. "And it seemed like it just sort of snowballed from there."

Where Geathers goes from here remains to be seen.

He plans to ask the NFL's underclassmen advisory committee for an evaluation, although he put his odds of leaving early at 20 percent.

"He's got a chance to have a tremendous senior year," USC coach Steve Spurrier said. "He and Cliff Matthews could be two of the best defensive ends in the country next year if all that works out. Hopefully it will."

Geathers said he talks with his brother often about football and other topics. Despite his family's tradition of producing NFL pass-rushers, Geathers knows when he turns pro - whenever that is - he'll have to make it on his own.

"If I were to leave, I would have to prove myself to everybody. It's not like it's given to me," Geathers said. "This right here wasn't given to me. I was on the sideline for most of the time (at USC), so I had to prove it here. I don't think it's given to me. The last name, it's a big thing but then again, it's nothing."

The way Geathers has played - especially of late - is everything.