Gamecock senior night honors Deebo Samuel
Steve Spurrier Jr. had to squeeze in the drive to Belton-Honea Path High School for a playoff game against Chapman.
It was the day before a South Carolina football home game against Coastal Carolina in 2013, and the team had a walk-through followed by a pregame meeting. But Spurrier Jr. wanted to sneak off toward Anderson and look at a kid from Chapman, Tyshun Samuel, who also went by Deebo.
“He came to our (summer) camp, and he did well in our camp,” Spurrier Jr. said. “And I said, ‘We’re going to watch you this year.’ Then I remember about, it was kind of out in the middle of the year, I remember talking to coach (Shawn) Elliott, he was in coach Elliott’s area. Coach Elliott always spoke highly of him. I said, ‘I’m going to go watch him play.’ ”
He watched Samuel catch seven passes for 123 yards in a 17-7 playoff win against Belton-Honea Path. Samuel carried the ball, took reverses, played a little quarterback.
So the coach asked him down to Columbia.
“Every time the ball was in the air, I was going to get it,” Samuel said at the time. “He wrote me on Facebook and told me he was very impressed with me. I went to the [Coastal] game, he took me in the locker room and he offered me then. It put a pretty big smile on my face.”
Spurrier Jr. said he spent the whole game just watching Samuel, the way he worked, what he did. He returned and told Elliott it was time to offer.
“He and his mother came to the game the next day and we offered him,” Spurrier Jr. said. “He was pretty excited about it. His mother had a lot of questions.
“Deebo wanted to come. He was kind of reluctant at first. He was ready to commit on the spot. He said, ‘Let me make sure I talk to my mom.’ I said, ‘Yeah, make sure you do that. Let’s make sure it’s prefect and answer every question.’ ”
On Monday in his announcement that he would skip the Belk Bowl and start training for the NFL draft, Samuel mentioned getting the chance to play for the team he grew up rooting for.
“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!” Samuel wrote on Instagram. “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.”
When asked about why it took until November of Samuel’s senior year for a scholarship offer to happen, and why he wasn’t the most heavily recruited player, Spurrier Jr. said he wasn’t quite sure.
At the time, Samuel and his coach said it was his grades, which he admitted he had to work to get up in the late going. At the end of his recruitment, he was a three-star prospect, the No. 112 wide receiver in the country and 23rd-best player in South Carolina by the 247Sports composite rankings.
At the moment, he’s rated the No. 43 player in the 2019 NFL draft by CBS.
His ranking issues certainly were not because of the then-5-foot-11, 180-pounder’s play. He’d played mostly running back and defense his first two seasons (he finished with 12 high school interceptions). As a junior, he put up 78 catches for 1,246 yards and 18 touchdowns. As a senior, he had 61 for 1,184 and 15 scores, plus 837 rushing yards and 13 trips to the end zone.
He went on to a dynamic career, making big plays all over for the Gamecocks, even while battling injuries.
“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 Monday. “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 lived up to the ability Spurrier Jr. saw that night. The coach remembered how Samuel cut, how he moved, how he exploded with the ball in his hands.
“He was different,” Spurrier Jr. said. “He was a strong leader and he was a competitive player.
“Deebo was different. He was different early in how he handled himself, the way he carried himself and the way he played.”