Josh Belk describes his time at South Carolina, his weight and back injury
Former South Carolina football player Josh Belk said in a YouTube video that his departure from the Gamecocks was connected being asked to lift weights after learning he had spinal fractures — and a threat, according to Belk, that his scholarship would be pulled if he didn’t comply.
USC responded Monday afternoon in a statement that did not mention Belk by name but said, in part, that “coaches cannot withdraw scholarships because of medical reasons.”
The Lewisville High School product and one-time four-star recruit had a short and star-crossed college career that saw him enroll at Clemson, transfer to South Carolina, get eligible to play at USC right away and ultimately leave — all in a little more than a calendar year. He said little publicly when he departed Columbia, and in the 15-minute long video posted Saturday talked about multiple steps on his football journey, including what happened when he left the Gamecocks.
Belk in the video said his back started burning during a heavy squat workout day. After being told it was a muscle spasm, he said he found himself unable to work out to full capacity. He said he got a CT scan, according his remarks in the video, which revealed several fractures in his back.
“So three days after they said my back was fractured, I got a text, I was going to class and stuff, and I got a text and it was like, ‘Come in and work out.’ ” Belk said in the video. “I was like, ‘Work out? My back is fractured.’ So I went, was like, ‘What’s the deal with that?’ They explained and everything. I went and tried it out. … I was like, ‘I can’t work out right now.’
“After about a week or so, they called me, I was still doing my treatment and everything,” he said in the video. “They called me and told me that I needed to meet with the head coach. So I went, what’s up? I went over there, met with the head coach and everything. When that happened, they told me then, they were like, ‘Either you’re going to lift and stuff or we’re going to take your scholarship at the end of the semester.’ ”
Soon after, in February, he decided to leave school and go home. At the time, he told one media outlet a fractured vertebrae led to him choosing another path, one that might not do long-term damage to his body.
Messages seeking comment were left with Belk and his high school coach Will Mitchell.
Asked for a comment, USC released the following statement: “The University of South Carolina is committed to providing all of our student-athletes with high-quality, comprehensive health care from nationally recognized surgeons and athletic trainers. Additionally, as stated in the Gamecock Student-Athlete Promise, all athletically-related scholarships provided to incoming freshmen are four-year agreements and coaches cannot withdraw scholarships because of medical reasons. Due to federal HIPPA laws, the University cannot comment about medical treatments or issues with any specific student-athlete.”
Belk in the YouTube video never directly says Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp threatened to take away his scholarship.
At the time of Belk’s departure, Muschamp said in a statement: “After talking with Josh Belk, he has decided to give up the game. He is a fine young man and we wish him the best.”
Belk admitted in the video the weight he gained between leaving Clemson and getting to South Carolina, which had him up to 359 pounds, contributed to injuries he suffered trying to go all-out at practice. Muschamp said an ankle injury slowed him through the early portion of the 2018 season.
Belk ultimately played in six games, with seven tackles, one QB hurry and one pass break-up.
In the video, he said he has fully moved past football at this point in his life. The game found him, to a degree, in high school, as his build made him a natural prospect. After his time in Columbia, he got a little healthier and went out to a Mississippi community college for another shot at football, but the back ultimately led to that ending as well.
Belk had come out of high school as the No. 102 player in his class nationally, and at points in the process he had been considered a five-star recruit.
Belk appeared to record the video from inside a car while parked or slowly moving through an undisclosed parking lot. He promoted the video, titled “Clemson To Gamecocks To No Football At All,” from his Facebook page with the words, “A full video on my football career! How it started, the goods and the bad and how it ended. I hope that some can take positivity out of it and make great choices to befit success out of life. Make sure to watch and subscribe.”
A longer portion of Belk’s explanation of his injury and the process with USC, as well as the full video, are below:
“We had a heavy squat day one day, and my back just started burning extra bad. So I went to the training room, the told me (it was a) muscle spasm, got medicine and stuff. I went back to work out next day, we had to do upper body, dumbell press. I’m usually throwing up 125 pounds on the dumbell press. I barely can get 60 pounds. I’m like, ‘I need an MRI.’ So I went and got an MRI and then I got a CT scan on my back. They said it was fractured in three places, a pars fracture. Then when they showed it to me, it was in three places, something like that. At that point, I couldn’t even sit in class. And I was never the type of person to just open up and express how I was feeling. Because I don’t want to be looked at as being soft.
“That was kind of tough, so I kind of held it in, and that hurt me in the long run. I wish I hadn’t, but it is what it is, all in God’s plan. So three days after they said my back was fractured, I got a text, I was going to class and stuff, and I got a text and it was like, ‘Come in and work out.’ I was like, ‘Work out? My back is fractured.’ So I went, was like, ‘What’s the deal with that?’ They explained and everything. I went and tried it out. … I was like, ‘I can’t work out right now.’ That was the point in time where I started to stand up for myself. I started looking ahead instead of living in the now. Looking now and ahead.
“After about a week or so, they called me, I was still doing my treatment and everything. They called me and told me that I needed to meet with the head coach. So I went, what’s up. I went over there, met with the head coach and everything. When that happened, they told me then, they were like, either you’re going to lift and stuff or we’re going to take your scholarship at the end of the semester. What kind of stuff is that, man? I’m injured and you want me to lift and you’re threatening to take my scholarship because of that. How? It is what it is. I was just praying and stuff, I was finishing up classes for a little bit, and I got to a point where I was like, there ain’t even no point in me staying here. My scholarship is going to get taken away. So at that point, I just came home. It was kind of dirty on that end. Because when you’re on scholarship, I think you should have an option to stay … But it’s a business, so I understood that.”