South Carolina seniors recall fun times on, off field as careers wind down
They will remember the wins, of course, and how they won more games than any South Carolina football players who came before them.
WHO: South Carolina (8-2, 6-2 SEC) vs. Wofford (8-2, 6-2 Southern)
WHEN: Saturday, 1 p.m.
WHERE: Williams-Brice Stadium
But for this year’s USC seniors, who will play their final home game Saturday afternoon against Wofford, so much of what they will still vividly recall years from now has little to do with wins and losses.
There were funny moments in the locker room, pranks like wrapping a teammate’s helmet entirely in athletic tape, so when the guy returned to his locker, he saw his helmet looking like a white ball, and perhaps heard a few teammates giggling nearby.
USC’s locker room white board is a frequent source of amusement. Players put their own silly spin on game balls and write recipients’ names on the board. Senior center T.J. Johnson got one this year for sailing the ball over the quarterback’s head on a shotgun snap at Kentucky. Free safety D.J. Swearinger’s dog has even received a game ball.
“I’ll remember some of those times for the rest of my life,” Johnson said.
Swearinger is the senior class’s biggest character. He has decorated the white board with a caricature he drew of running back Kenny Miles. Swearinger decided to name his blue pit bull something color- appropriate, but he spells the dog’s name “Blooh.” Swearinger even wears a grill of gold teeth during games.
“That’s just sort of a Jungle Boy image, you can say,” he said, referring to his nickname. “During the game, I just want to feel free and feel good. I like to talk a lot of trash out there, so I when I talk trash, I just have my gold teeth showing. They’re molded to my teeth, so they won’t fall out. It’s sort of like a mouthpiece. They cost a little money.”
While Swearinger is a centerpiece of this year’s team, injuries have forced senior cornerback Akeem Auguste to miss five of 10 games. During the hours he spent in the training room, his teammates stopped by and “kept me in the loop with everything, and I just really never felt like I was distant from the team,” he said.
Auguste remembers leaner times, when USC went 7-6 in 2009 and closed the season 2-5. His class decided it didn’t want to use the same approach as the older players used that year.
“It was bad,” Auguste said. “But we came together and we saw how the older guys did their thing and we really tried to change it and do things differently, be accountable for everybody. It’s really just worked in our favor.”
Since the start of 2009, USC is 35-19, including 19-4 since the beginning of last season and 12-4 in Southeastern Conference games. The win total for this year’s seniors is one better than last year’s, which was five better than the 2010 class’s program-best win total. Next year’s seniors could surpass 35 wins in their careers. They already have 28.
Thirty-five wins for these seniors has meant plenty of on-field memories, too.
Byron Jerideau, a 316-pound defensive tackle, will always smile about his blocked extra point at Florida this year, “because a lot of my teammates said if I scooped it, I would have only went like 20, 30 yards. But I feel like I would have took it to the crib.”
Auguste, who has played in 41 games, finally got his first career interception last week against Arkansas. He couldn’t keep the ball, so he kept his gloves. He said the pick felt like “just a monkey jumping off my back. Hopefully I can get a couple more before the season is over.”
After Wofford, USC travels to Clemson, then to a bowl game. The Gamecocks (8-2) still have a chance to equal last season’s program-best 11-2 record.
“It’s been a special time around here, just watching the team kind of turn the corner as the years progress,” Johnson said.
As of now, Swearinger’s favorite moments are the 2010 win at Florida that clinched USC’s first SEC Eastern Division title and last year’s Capital One Bowl, where USC reached 11 wins.
“That’s one of the things I came here to do, is to come here and make history with the senior class,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll have a moment this year that tops both of those times.”