South Carolina offensive lineman Garrett Anderson saved his best for last.
Given a courtesy start on senior day against Clemson, Anderson responded with an effort that pleased even his hard-to-please coach.
Following the Gamecocks' 34-17 victory, Steve Spurrier called Anderson's performance the best of his career. The fact that it came at left guard, a position Anderson had not played in two years - and against Clemson - made it all the sweeter for the Columbia native.
The encouraging words from Spurrier served as validation.
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"It's very rare to hear coach Spurrier (give) praise, especially (to) an offensive lineman. It's just not something he's known for. He's a very tough guy, and to get a praise out of him is a very big thing," Anderson said this week. "So if he thought that I had a good game, then apparently I did. I'm very, very proud of that game. I think it was just pure adrenaline, playing Clemson my senior year."
Anderson's senior season had not gone so swimmingly until the Clemson game.
After starting all 13 games at center in 2008, Anderson lost his spot as he struggled with the schemes and techniques taught by new offensive line coach Eric Wolford, who left after one season to become Youngstown State's coach.
Anderson has no ill will toward Wolford. He said things simply did not click as well for him as they did for fifth-year senior Lemuel Jeanpierre, who took over at center. The 6-foot-4, 307-pound Anderson started six games and said his start against Clemson was more of a nice gesture than anything.
"They sort of went out on a limb because I hadn't really been doing that great in practice and on the field. They gave me a shot for a senior to go out there and do what I could do my senior game, and it all worked out good," he said. "I was very appreciative that they gave the opportunity. And I wanted to make sure when I went out there I didn't disappoint them."
Anderson helped set an aggressive tone against the Tigers by diving into a pile to recover freshman receiver Alshon Jeffery's first-quarter fumble. Anderson, who has played in 47 of 50 games since picking his hometown school over Clemson, Virginia Tech and West Virginia, remembers few of the specifics from the Clemson game.
"That's one of those games where you get done, and you really don't realize what exactly happened," he said. "You're sort of in a daze because it flew by and it was a very emotional game."
It was Anderson's final game at Williams-Brice Stadium, where he used to attend four to five games a season beginning in elementary school. He remembers watching the Gamecocks during their 1-21 stretch in 1998 and '99, and wanted to be part of the program's resurgence under Spurrier.
Anderson's mother graduated from USC, while his father is a Florida graduate who had followed Spurrier when he was the Gators' quarterback. Anderson, who played at Dutch Fork, said it was always his dream to suit up for the Gamecocks.
After Saturday's Papajohns.com Bowl against Connecticut, Anderson will wake up from a four-year dream that went by more quickly than he imagined it would.
"It's more surreal than anything else, finally seeing it end," Anderson said. "That's one thing you always here about whenever you first get here - it goes by quick. And it definitely did."
Jeanpierre and interim offensive line coach Andy Boyd, who played with Anderson for two years, both said Anderson always has been willing to help teammates. But Jeanpierre, who arrived at USC as a defensive lineman, said it took him a while to warm to Anderson.
"I was on defense. I really didn't like him, to be honest with you. I kind of had that mentality, he's an offensive lineman ... and he's a true freshman offensive lineman. I'm like, 'Let me teach him something,'" said Jeanpierre, who is a year older than Anderson. "(Then) I made the transition (to offense), and Garrett kind of helped me. We have a good bond."
Anderson graduated this month in 3 1/2 years with a double major in management and marketing. He hopes to put the business world off for a few years while pursuing an NFL career.
He has several mementos from USC, including the camouflage jersey the Gamecocks wore against Florida. Anderson's parents gave their son his No. 70 jersey for Christmas after winning it with a $705 bid in the online auction that raised money for the Wounded Warrior Project.
Anderson also plans to take the nameplate above his locker after the bowl game. Most of all, Anderson wants to go out a winner.
"The bowl's fun, and you can go out and have a lot of fun. But you're there for one reason: You're there to play a football game," he said. "We're going there to win a game, not just have a lot of fun and party the whole time."