COLUMBIA — When Chaz Sutton watched college football games as a child growing up in Savannah, he wasn’t envisioning himself playing for the home-state team.
Sutton was a Miami fan. As in, The U. Somewhat unique in Savannah, and certainly strange, the senior South Carolina defensive end stuck out compared to the other kids in his neighborhood.
“Me being from Georgia, there’s always a lot of talk about UGA football,” Sutton said. “Me as a child, growing up I never really got into watching Georgia football as much. I always was a big fan of UM — University of Miami — because all the great players that had come from there. I was like, ‘Man, what if I could be one of those guys.’ ”
Sutton didn’t see the big deal in wearing a giant G on the side of his helmet. His attention was focused outside the hedges, not between them.
In high school, that changed.
As a top 10 weakside defensive end nationally — and top 20 overall prospect in Georgia — it didn’t take long for the Bulldogs to recruit Sutton. The questions soon followed. How high was Georgia on his list of schools? Would he be a Bulldog? Always, the answer was assumed.
In Georgia, accepting the privilege to play inside Sanford Stadium is a birthright. That’s what everyone told him, so Sutton scheduled a trip to campus.
“Once I visited there, I just had a change of thought. Like, ‘That’s not a place I want to be,’” Sutton said.
He didn’t say what diverted his path, but Sutton represents a trend at USC. The Gamecocks have 25 players from Georgia, more than a quarter of their scholarship roster.
For those from the Peach State, the program’s three-game winning streak against Georgia — its longest in program history — carries special meaning.
“It’s like a rivalry game for me,” sophomore safety T.J. Gurley said. “Most of the Georgia players are from around where I’m from, so I know a lot of them. They’re talking a lot of trash, but it’s just all fun. It’s a rivalry game to me.”
Gurley mentioned a few Georgia players he knows from high school, including Bulldogs starting safety Tray Matthews. He recently hosted freshman cornerback Brendan Langley on a recruiting trip to Columbia.
“Me and him are real cool,” Gurley said.
Perhaps less cool this week.
With an 0-1 record — something that doesn’t mix well with Georgia’s preseason dreams of winning a national championship — the Bulldogs need no extra motivation this week. They return to their home stadium 4:30 p.m. Saturday licking wounds after an opening loss to Clemson nobody in Athens saw coming.
Perhaps USC coach Steve Spurrier was thinking the same when he downplayed the Border Bash on Tuesday. Spurrier, flashing his trademark sarcasm, said this matchup really isn’t that big of a rivalry. After all, so many other teams dislike the Bulldogs, and the Bulldogs dislike so many other teams. There is Florida and Auburn, heated rivals in both SEC divisions. Georgia even got in a postgame scrum with Vanderbilt two seasons ago.
It’s hard for the Bulldogs to keep track of all their enemies, Spurrier quipped.
“I don’t get near the hate from the Georgia side that I used to get,” he said.
But Saturday, things will get personal inside Sanford Stadium. Spurrier revived the rivalry when he came to Carolina almost a decade ago. After three straight victories, and with USC’s suddenly-fertile recruiting ground in the state, it’s hit another level in recent years.
Gurley doesn’t doubt Georgia will be motivated this weekend. He knows part of that will be USC’s attempt to make this crop of seniors the first ever to finish their careers undefeated against the Bulldogs.
“You know they don’t want to lose to us, because we’ve been beating them the past years,” Gurley said.
“They want to beat us. So they’re going to go out there and play hard. They know South Carolina has got a lot of Georgia players, and they know if we beat them we’re going to talk trash to each other.”
Follow Ryan Wood @rwood_sc on Twitter or blog.postandcourier.com/spur-of-the-moment.