South Carolina football star Deebo Samuel will skip the Belk Bowl and head straight to the NFL draft, he announced Monday via social media.
He missed much of 2015 and 2017, plus parts of 2016 with injuries. He looked like a likely candidate to leave last season, but a broken bone in the season’s third game and a foot injury brought him back.
“As much as I would love to suit up one last time for the Gamecocks, having those extra weeks to better prepare for the NFL will be crucial,” Samuel wrote on Instagram. “As I look to the next chapter, I realize the next 6 months will determine my next four years and potentially even more.”
He was asked about this happening following South Carolina’s regular season finale against Akron and was noncommittal, saying, “I haven’t thought about that.”
Samuel was one of the most dynamic players in the SEC with the ball in his hands. He was the fifth-leading receiver in the league with 62 catches for 882 yards (4th) and 11 touchdowns (2nd). He also led the conference in kick return average (24.78 yards) and had the only kick return score in the conference this season.
He was named AP All-SEC on Monday at two positions.
“Staying in state and playing for the team I rooted for my entire life was one of my best decisions,” Samuel wrote. “There is no experience that can compare to suiting up in that garnet and black. Coach Muschamp and the staff helped me develop as a player and even more as a man — Thank you!”
He was a lightly-recruited three-star prospect out of Chapman High School. His offers included Maryland, N.C. State and UNC, and South Carolina didn’t even offer until late November of his senior season.
Samuel redshirted his first season on campus, then overcame hamstring issues to put up 161 yards in the final five games of his second season.
He broke out as a sophomore with 783 receiving yards and seven total touchdowns despite missing three games.
Through nearly three games in 2017, Samuel was a darling of the sport. He counted a pair of kick return scores and two highlight-reel catches among his six touchdowns. His big plays sparked South Carolina to a win at Missouri and proved vital in topping North Carolina State in the season opener.
Then came the injuries and the return.
“I came back for my senior year to play another season in front of the most passionate fans in the country and graduate,” Samuel wrote. “I now have the chance to support my family and community in a way that could impact so many around me.
“I will be at the bowl game to cheer on my brothers and to thank USC, the fans and my family for making my dreams come true!”
He finished his career with 148 catches, 2,076 yards and 23 total offensive touchdowns. He also returned four kicks for scores.
Samuel finished eighth on South Carolina’s all-time list for receptions, 10th for yards, ninth for receiving touchdowns. His 3,457 all-purpose yards are eighth, and he was fourth in total touchdowns with 28, and threw a pair.
CBS has him ranked as the No. 43 player in the 2019 draft and the fifth-best wide receiver. At 6-foot, 210 pounds, he’s not the tallest receiver, but he is quick and powerfully built.
Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp was asked about the potential for players skipping the bowl on Sunday, and he said he’d back any choice they wanted to make.
“I personally support his decision,” Muschamp said in a statement. “Deebo has been a great student-athlete, both on and off the field, at the University of South Carolina and will graduate on December 17. We appreciate all of his contributions to the University and wish him the best of luck as he pursues his dream of playing in the NFL.”