COLUMBIA -- Two weeks ago, South Carolina quarterback Reid McCollum couldn't even hold his head up. By this past weekend, he was leading the Gamecocks on a touchdown drive in his first extended playing time.
From flu to football, all in a week's time.
"I was just trying to come back and get healthy," McCollum said this week. "I just wanted to come in and get my feet back under me and progress through the week.
"I knew I was going to have a chance to play, if we played well on offense. It just worked out that way."
After starter Stephen Garcia helped the offense to a three-touchdown third quarter and a 31-7 lead against South Carolina State, the redshirt freshman from Summerville checked in with 8:58 to go.
Moe Brown took a reverse 21 yards on the first play to help McCollum settle and flip the field.
McCollum then hit fullback Pat DiMarco for a 3-yard dumpoff.
After a couple of Jarvis Giles runs picked up another first down, McCollum tried to find Alshon Jeffery on an out pattern to the far sideline -- a throw that required his strong arm. With McCollum a bit jittery, he one-hopped it to the wide-open freshman.
Steve Spurrier signaled in the same play, only to the other side. This time, with his receiver covered, McCollum zinged it well over D.L. Moore's head.
"I was so juiced up I could've thrown it out of the stadium," McCollum said.
McCollum scrambled on the following play before finding tight end Justice Cunningham for a 9-yard gain.
But he was hit late by S.C. State -- popped rather hard, actually -- and the Gamecocks got another 15 yards out of the play for a personal foul.
After a year and a half of practice, football suddenly became physical again for McCollum. And that wasn't a bad thing.
"He needed that," said McCollum's dad, Dennis. "He hadn't been hit in two years. Once he got hit, he was comfortable."
The penalty set up first-and-10 at the 20 for the Gamecocks.
McCollum drifted back and, from the right hash, lobbed a ball to the left side of the end zone.
Jeffery leapt over the Bulldogs defender and came down with the touchdown -- the first for both players.
"A drive that finished with his first touchdown pass," quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus said. "That's about the way you'd want to draw it up."
McCollum said the throw was a familiar one. Instead of A.J. Green coming down with the pass, as he did countless times at Summerville High, it was Jeffery, another outstanding S.C. high school prospect.
"I was kidding him about that," Mangus said. "I said I don't think that's your first rodeo, throwing that jump ball in the end zone."
S.C. State ran the clock down from there, but it was an impressive first step for McCollum.
He finished the game 3-for-5 for 32 yards and the score.
Not bad for a guy who couldn't even suit up for the historic win against Mississippi. He said he was so drowsy he doesn't remember much of the game.
"That was miserable," he said.
Mangus and the coaches lamented not getting McCollum more snaps against Florida Atlantic -- he got one, completing a short pass -- but he excelled in his first legitimate work.
Garcia's gradual improvements have been noted by virtually everyone. But McCollum's been getting better, too, albeit mostly behind the scenes.
"His progression has been something -- and we haven't talked about this a bunch --but we're very happy with it," Mangus said. "When he does it right, he's a very, very good passer.
"Hopefully that won't be the last we see of him. We want to get him some reps and get him in some games."
That would suit McCollum just fine. He's not content to merely back up Garcia. He has the desire to play, something you'd want any reserve to have.
"Any experience I get is valuable," McCollum said. "You never know when my number's going to be called. It could be this week or at Alabama. You never know. Every little bit of experience helps."
McCollum has said playing at USC is his dream. So, in a way, Saturday was the realization of that.
"It was pretty special," he said. "It felt good to go out there and show what I've been doing to work the last couple of months.
"I've had a lot of people congratulating me since then. It means a lot. I didn't know this many people were watching. I'm just working hard and trying to help the team where I can."
His parents were on hand, excited to see their son on the field.
Summerville coach John McKissick has also followed along as McCollum has progressed up I-26.
"He's a good guy and was a big part of our athletic program," McKissick said of McCollum, who threw for more than 6,000 yards and 69 touchdowns in his final two seasons with the Green Wave. "I'm really pleased with him. If the occasion ever arose, I believe he would handle that team well."
Center Garrett Anderson (back) missed practice Wednesday, but Spurrier said he should be fine by Saturday. ... TE Weslye Saunders is officially out for the game. Cunningham, a freshman, will start. Cunningham cramped some at practice Wednesday, but it was nothing too serious.
Reach Travis Haney at firstname.lastname@example.org and check out the South Carolina blog at www.postandcourier.com/weblogs/gamecocks.
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