Mason Harris will graduate Saturday and leave South Carolina with an education in academics and sports.
First, there’s the hospitality degree he will receive. A not-so-distant second for the former Gamecock defensive lineman is an understanding of all parts of major college football.
Harris is one of six graduate transfers leaving the Gamecocks football team to finish their collegiate playing days elsewhere. NCAA rules allow graduates to play right away rather than sitting out a season as transferring athletes previously had to do. That rule change has led to a new reality throughout college athletics, and it’s become commonplace to see athletes leaving late in their careers looking for greener pastures or just different scenery.
South Carolina has gained two athletes this year with safety Isaiah Johnson, who will join the football team this fall after playing at Kansas last season, and women’s basketball player Sarah Imovbioh, who is transferring from Virginia.
Still, to see six outgoing players from one team is a shock to the system. Harris is being joined on the way out the door by linebacker Kaiwan Lewis, tight end Drew Owens, wide receiver K.J. Brent, linebacker Marcquis Roberts and defensive linemen Deon Green, the casualties of a disappointing 2014 season and depth chart realities.
All six of the players have gone through a re-recruitment of sorts since their plans to leave South Carolina were revealed, and all those contacted for this article said it was nothing like the first time around. As high schoolers, the players said, they were wide-eyed for all the flash of the process.
“I am not going to call it fake, but I could see all, I guess you call it, recruiting talk,” Harris said.
“I could see what was real and what was the best thing for me,” said Harris, who is headed to Kennesaw State after graduation.
Lewis is the highest-profile of the Gamecocks transfer list and drew the most interest from major college programs. He rebuffed much of it, though, before landing at Rutgers, two hours from his hometown of Pleasantville, N.J.
“I didn’t really want to be recruited,” Lewis said. “I just wanted the facts. I don’t need to see that you’ve got six different uniforms. I’ll go out there in a practice jersey if that’s what we’ve got to play in. I wanted to finish my career and put myself in the best position to pursue a pro career at the end of the season.”
Lewis, who also visited Nebraska, started 11 games and had 77 tackles and two sacks in three seasons at South Carolina.
“I played a lot of football down here,” he said. “I played at what is believed the top competition in the country. It was a pretty good experience, and now I get to go do it in the best conference in America now because that’s where the national champions are.”
Lewis will graduate after taking an Italian class in Columbia this summer and then join the Scarlet Knights for preseason practice. As excited as he is for his next step, he still laments the way this one ended.
“There were a lot of things that happened here in my final year that I was not pleased with that I don’t think were handled exactly the right way,” he said. “I feel like I put everything on the table. I feel like I held up my end of the deal. I am thankful for the opportunity coach (Steve) Spurrier gave me here. I definitely don’t have any problem with coach Spurrier. A few of us had the same reasons that we did things as far as defensively.”
Tight end Drew Owens is headed to Hampton to play next season. His departure was suggested during the middle of the 2014 season, which allowed him to get a jump on the re-recruitment process, he said.
Instead of looking for the fanciest facilities or slickest pitch, Owens started his second time through the process with a question unrelated to football – “Where would I like to live?” He decided on the DMV area (slang for a hub that includes the District of Columbia, and parts of Maryland and Virginia), Florida or California.
“I went into this time knowing what I wanted to get out of the situation, not just with hopes and prayers,” he said.
Owens will pursue an MBA at Hampton, where will be on scholarship for two seasons, he said, one as a player and one as a graduate assistant coach.
He will graduate from South Carolina with a double major in marketing and management in August. He drew interest from larger programs such as UCF and South Alabama but was unwilling to give up one of his majors to graduate earlier, which both programs encouraged him to do, he said.
“I am really proud of that (double major), and I really want to finish that,” he said.
After playing sparingly at South Carolina, he’s excited for his next opportunity, he said.
“Things change, that’s just how life is,” he said. “That’s in everything in life. You just have to deal with that.”
Leaving South Carolina’s football team:
KJ Brent: Wake Forest
Kaiwan Lewis: Rutgers
Drew Owens: Hampton
Mason Harris: Kennesaw St.
Marcquis Roberts: Kansas
Deon Green: TBA
Athletes joining USC
Isaiah Johnson: Football safety transferring from Kansas
Sarah Imovbioh: Women’s basketball center transferring from Virginia