COLUMBIA — South Carolina defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles said LSU defensive end Sam Montgomery is “like a brother to me.”

They grew up in Greenwood, between Columbia and Greenville. They attended the same middle school and played football together as kids — Montgomery as a running back, Quarles blocking for him as an offensive lineman.

Their friendship remains as strong as ever, and they will reunite Saturday night, when USC plays at LSU. Quarles said that when he talked to Montgomery on Sunday, he told Montgomery, “Let the best man win.”

They won’t actually play against each other, of course. But Quarles is still looking forward to seeing his old friend.

Montgomery arrived at LSU in 2009 as a highly regarded recruit — the No. 6 weak-side end in the country and No. 5 prospect in the state of South Carolina, according to Rivals.com.

“We recruited him really hard and I wish he was here, but I’m glad things have worked out for him at LSU,” said USC defensive line coach Brad Lawing, who landed Quarles for the Class of 2010 and another Greenwood player, free safety D.J. Swearinger, for the Class of 2009.

Quarles and Swearinger were top recruits, too. Quarles was the No. 9 defensive tackle and the No. 7 player in South Carolina. Swearinger was the No. 20 safety and No. 14 player in the state.

Montgomery, a fourth-year junior, was projected in May by ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. as the fifth pick in next year’s NFL draft. Kiper projected LSU’s other end, Barkevious Mingo, to go third.

Montgomery explained to reporters in Baton Rouge this week why he didn’t follow Swearinger to USC: “I just wanted to be different. I didn’t want to take the same route as everybody going to South Carolina or Clemson. I wanted to show the South Carolina guys that people from South Carolina can go around the world to play football.”

Montgomery has two sacks this season and has helped LSU rise to No. 15 in the nation in run defense. Quarles has 2˝ sacks. USC ranks No. 9 against the run. Of USC’s 25 sacks, tied for the most in the country, defensive linemen are responsible for 21, as the Gamecocks have been able to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks primarily by rushing only their linemen.

Gamecocks’ toughest three-game stretch?

Last week, USC beat fifth-ranked Georgia. This week, LSU is ranked ninth. USC’s opponent next week, also on the road, is Florida, currently ranked fourth.

If Florida wins at Vanderbilt this week to stay in the top 10, this will mark the first time in USC coach Steve Spurrier’s 23 seasons as a college head coach that he has faced top 10 opponents in three straight weeks.

When he coached at Florida, he faced three straight top 10 opponents two times, in 1994 and 1999, but both years included a bowl game as the third in the sequence, so the Gators had extra time to prepare.

Spurrier came to USC in 2005. Before this season, he faced just three straight ranked teams, period, just once with the Gamecocks — 2006, when USC went 0-3 against No. 8 Tennessee, No. 12 Arkansas and at No. 6 Florida.

Tight end Anderson makes catches count

Sophomore tight end Rory Anderson played last season as a true freshman, and while he hasn’t been USC’s most recognizable offensive player, he has been one of its most efficient.

Anderson has eight catches this season, three for touchdowns. For his career, he has 16 catches, seven for touchdowns. Five of his career catches have come in the red zone, and all five have resulted in touchdowns, including two this season.

When you consider that USC had nine red zone touchdown passes last season and seven this season, and that Anderson accounted for five of those 16, it is easy to see why he is so valuable.

“It’s kind of funny because a lot of (USC) players joke on me about my catch-to-touchdown ratio,” Anderson said. “They say I don’t catch nothing but touchdowns.”