From savior to sayonara in 413 days.
Brandon McIlwain, South Carolina’s reserve quarterback and outfielder, announced via Twitter on Wednesday he will transfer from the school. Before Jake Bentley was a twinkle in any Gamecock’s eye, McIlwain was going to be the player who led USC back to prominence.
In the gloom of the 3-9 season that ended Steve Spurrier’s era at the school, McIlwain, a two-sport star and four-star prospect was a rare ray of light. He enrolled in January of 2016 with the weight of powerful expectations in two sports on his shoulders. It was probably too heavy a load for any player to carry, and McIlwain put it down Wednesday.
“This is one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make, but I know it’s right and God has a plan,” McIlwain wrote in a statement he posted to social media announcing the decision. “Wearing Garnet and Black has been an honor and a privilege for me. I will cherish the time I spent at USC and I thank all the people in Columbia and the Gamecock Nation who have shown me love and support, but at this point it is time to make a change.”
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McIlwain informed football coach Will Muschamp of his decision Wednesday. Muschamp did not block the door.
“Brandon came by today and spoke to me about transferring from the University of South Carolina,” Muschamp said in a statement released by the school. “I support his decision and wish him all the best.”
McIlwain started three games for South Carolina as a freshman quarterback, completing 52.5 percent of his passes for 600 yards and running for another 127 yards. He played pretty much exactly how a freshman quarterback should be expected to play, but his on-again, off-again relationship with the starting lineup created off-field angst.
When Bentley, a summer enrollee who was not expected to be with the team in 2016 when McIlwain enrolled, was named the Gamecocks’ starter midway through the 2016 season, McIlwain’s mother posted a message on Facebook that read, in part: “Brandon is repeatedly told that his strength is running the ball, NEVER before has he been so unfairly pigeon holed! He has always fearlessly & successfully THROWN the ball very well as any quarterback is trained to do!! If the deep threat is there, he will deliver. But he has not had that opportunity.”
Muschamp downplayed the message at the time, but the signs of a fraying relationship were starting to show and the two camps never again found a comfortable working alliance. McIlwain participated in the team’s first two practices of the spring, on Saturday and Monday but did not participate in Tuesday’s workout.
Until the bitter end, both sides were insisting publicly that McIlwain would again be a member of the football team this fall. Just last week, Muschamp said McIlwain was “battling to be the starter,” but it wasn’t meant to be. McIlwain’s father did not respond Wednesday to a message seeking comment on the transfer.
McIlwain also never found any traction with the baseball team. In the first nine games of the season, he made only one appearance and that was as a pinch runner.
“Brandon has all the skills to be a terrific baseball player,” said baseball coach Chad Holbrook. “I have no doubt as he devotes more time to the sport, he can do great things. We have enjoyed him immensely and we wish him well as his career moves forward.”
The most unkind description of McIlwain would be as a double bust, but that’s unfair. Sometimes things don’t work out, and this one didn’t. A change won’t hurt either party and might help both.
As the Gamecocks football team moves forward, the question now is of quarterback depth. Despite the lip service, McIlwain was no threat to unseat Bentley as South Carolina’s starter, but Muschamp is now one ill-fated snap from being in the same quarterback jam that pushed him out at Florida.
It would be selfish for any South Carolina fan to want McIlwain to subjugate his own dreams simply to provide the Gamecocks depth on two playing fields. It would also be foolish for them not to be a little worried about that now.