A good catch for Wofford

Andy Strickland never will forget the first time he played against USC.

The Wofford receiver hauled in a 25-yard touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter of the 2006 meeting to cut the Gamecocks’ lead to 27-20.

Even though USC held on for the win at Williams-Brice Stadium, Strickland walked away with a lifetime memory.

“That was probably one of the highlights of my career,” Strickland said. “It was a good feeling, and I’m excited about going back.”

There is good reason for that. Strickland spent his formative years in the Columbia area, where his father, Phil, served as football coach at Batesburg-Leesville High from 1992 to 2002. Andy Strickland spent much of that time roaming the sideline of the perennial Class 2A power.

“That’s where I grew up,” he said. “That’s where the majority of my friends are. Any time I come back, that’s when I feel like I’m home.”

Strickland left Batesburg-Leesville before his junior year in high school when his father took the coaching job at Class 4A powerhouse Gaffney. He admits the move wasn’t easy.

“It was difficult starting over, especially in high school when you’re trying to fit in and make friends,” Strickland said.

Yet he was determined to make the best of it.

“I knew it was a step my dad wanted to take, and it was the best thing for our family,” he said.

There’s no question about that.

Phil Strickland, who has a career 231-59 record, has guided Gaffney to three state championship games, winning in 2003 and 2006. He led Batesburg-Leesville to one state championship in four title-game appearances.

And his son prospered at Gaffney, earning Shrine Bowl honors his senior season before choosing to head down the road to Wofford for its academics and quality football program.

The 6-foot, 197-pound senior receiver has flourished, despite the Terriers being a predominantly running team. He has caught 54 passes for 1,005 yards and 10 touchdowns in his career.

Wofford coach Mike Ayers calls him a “great kid, great student” who keeps opposing defenses honest with his knack for making things happen.

“He’s nothing but a playmaker. If it’s crunch time and you need a play, he’s always been able to make that play,” Ayers said. “He’s probably as good a receiver as we’ve had here.”

Phil Strickland shares that pride. His son, a finance major, is a two-time member of the Southern Conference academic honor roll. He’s an A-student on the field, as well, as befits a coach’s son.

“Since he’s been in diapers, he’s been at football practices,” Phil Strickland said. “Kids like him tend to pick up a few things.”

Ayers agrees.

“Kids in a coaching family understand the sense of urgency, when it’s time to practice and play,” he said. “When he came in, he understood the responsibilities.”

Strickland enjoyed playing for his father, who knew how to draw the line when it came to coaching a son.

“He was very professional in situations like that. Things that happened on the field stayed on the field. He didn’t bring them home,” Strickland said. “I thoroughly enjoyed playing for him.”

Phil Strickland has enjoyed watching him progress. He and his wife, Debbie, have missed only one Wofford game in three-plus seasons. That came last November, when his Gaffney team played Summerville in the playoffs on a Friday night, while the Terriers were in Montana for a Saturday playoff game.

“It’s your child, and you don’t want to miss anything they do,” said Phil Strickland, who admits to losing a lot of sleep following the Terriers.

He will be in the stands Saturday cheering for Wofford against the Gamecocks one more time. Andy Strickland believes the Terriers will be ready, even though they will be playing in front of 80,000 people instead of 8,000.

“We realize they’ll be bigger, faster and stronger, but we’ll give it all we have. That’s our mentality,” said Strickland, who would love nothing more than to get in the end zone again in front of many old friends.

Strickland hopes his unbeaten SoCon team can give its instate SEC foe all it can handle again. But he concedes the element of surprise is gone.

“They did take us lightly, but those guys are going to be heads-up this time,” he said. “They found out two years ago that we’ve got a pretty good program.”

Reach White at (803) 771-8643