COLUMBIA — Four months ago, on back-to-back days during South Carolina’s preseason practices, the 2012 season took a sour turn for redshirt freshman running back Shon Carson and fifth-year senior cornerback Akeem Auguste.
But next Tuesday, when the Gamecocks play Michigan in the Outback Bowl, both players can experience satisfying endings to their seasons, as Auguste tries to finish his career on his own terms, back at home, and Carson contends for the role of Marcus Lattimore’s replacement.
Carson in the preseason broke his left wrist during a practice. It required surgery and the insertion of pins. Maybe no one has been snake-bitten by injuries during the past two seasons than Carson.
He came to Columbia last summer as the No. 28-ranked running back in the recruiting class of 2011, according to Rivals, and demonstrated prodigious speed. But after carrying twice in the opener, he carried once in the second game and tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee.
He was also going to miss all of 2012 with the wrist injury, which would have preserved the possibility of him successfully appealing to the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility. But Carson didn’t want to do that. He returned to practice a month ago, leading up to the Clemson game, and will definitely play in the bowl along with senior Kenny Miles and true freshman Mike Davis, said running backs coach Everette Sands.
“Shon’s looked good,” Sands said. “One of the big things for him right now is his legs are probably getting a little tired because he hasn’t run a lot like this since August. We talked about (Carson playing in 2012) right after his surgery. He was like, ‘coach, if I can get a chance to come back and play late in the season, I’m going to play.’
“He’s doing well out here in practice. The big deal for me is ball security and he’s done a great job of securing the ball so far. He didn’t (just) sit on the couch (while rehabilitating), but (the trainers) made him not run or work out for a long time, so he’s still in the process now of just getting his feet back under him.”
But Sands said Carson is clearly in better physical condition than he would have been if he suffered a leg injury. Carson will compete next spring with Davis and Brandon Wilds to replace the NFL-bound Lattimore. Wilds redshirted this season and will be a sophomore in 2013.
The day after Carson got hurt in August, Auguste played in a scrimmage and tweaked his right thigh, near his groin, which had nagged him for most of August. He was supposed to be a senior last season, after starting nine games in 2009 and 10 in 2010, but he missed all of 2011 with a foot injury. He missed the first four games this season, and the ninth game, against Tennessee.
In the 10th game, he finally got his first career interception, against Arkansas. A week later, against Wofford, he scored his first touchdown, after returning a fumble 31 yards.
The Wofford game was his first start of the season — junior Jimmy Legree had the job before that — and Auguste also started the regular season finale win at Clemson. He is listed ahead of Legree on the pre-bowl depth chart.
“It’s not how you start,” said defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward. “It’s how you finish. If (Auguste) continues to finish strong, then he’ll say that even though he didn’t play early in the season, he had a good senior year. He’s been doing a good job of being a leader for us since he’s been back. I think he’s played fairly well.”
Said Auguste: “I just was questioning myself, like, ‘Man, I keep getting hurt. What is going on?’ I can’t dwell on the past, but as far as what I wanted to do, I wanted to be top in every category and I felt like I had ability to do so. But (God) had another plan for me and I haven’t been on the field like I was supposed to this year, so we all go from here.”
Auguste said he feels healthier than he has since USC hosted Georgia on Oct. 6, his second game back. In less than a week, he gets to experience the joy of playing in front of family and friends who will make the 265-mile trip from his hometown of Hollywood, Fla.
“I’m talking about three, four rows (of stadium seats filled) probably,” he said. “So I can’t wait.”