COLUMBIA - Steve Spurrier reached out to Dawn Staley a few days before South Carolina's annual spring scrimmage. He wanted her to keep a secret.
Each year, Spurrier calls a surprise play for a touchdown. He names it the "off-the-bench play," where, fittingly, someone runs onto the field from the sideline to catch a pass. It's part of his quirky charm, a perfect tradition for an easygoing scrimmage.
This year, Spurrier wanted to include South Carolina's women's basketball coach.
"I told her, 'I want you to catch the off-the-bench play. You think you can catch it?' " Spurrier said, a funny question to ask a three-time Olympic gold medalist and one of the greatest women's basketball players in history. "She said, 'Coach, I can catch the ball.' "
Spurrier, almost bristling with excitement, dropped hints through the week.
He promised a "local celebrity" would make a cameo for the off-the-bench play. He planned to call the play just before halftime, when Staley and her team were scheduled to be honored before the announced crowd of 36,412. But as the first half dwindled, things weren't going according to plan.
Spurrier expected South Carolina to be around the 10-yard line before running the play. He wanted Staley to have a "nice, little, soft lob ball." With about 30 seconds left, the offense was on the 30-yard line, and Spurrier had to make a quick decision.
He rolled the dice.
"We hustled it in there," Spurrier said. "That ball was in the air quite a while. I said, 'Is she gonna get this one?' "
They don't just hand out Olympic gold medals to anyone, of course. Staley caught the pass with ease, cradling it against her stomach, much to the relief of quarterback Dylan Thompson.
"That was the most nervous I've ever been throwing a pass," said Thompson, who's thrown 63 passes combined in games at Clemson and 2014 Fiesta Bowl champion Central Florida. "I didn't know, you know - basketball, football is a different game. I was like, 'Should I throw it hard? Soft? Whatever?' And she was like, 'Just throw it. I've got gloves on.'
"I was happy she caught it, because I would've gotten a lot of junk if she wouldn't have."
Thompson locked up the starting quarterback job before spring practices began. Still, it never hurts to please the Head Ball Coach.
The fifth-year senior and first-time starter completed 8-of-11 passes for 129 yards. His lone touchdown was the 30-yard completion to Staley. The score gave South Carolina's Black Team a 21-10 halftime lead. The Black Team went on to beat the Garnet Team 28-10 in the scrimmage.
"Williams Brice is where the magic happens. Thanks @GamecockFB for the awesome experience. #springgameTD" Staley tweeted after the scrimmage.
Naturally, South Carolina's offense celebrated Staley's touchdown like she had just caught the winning pass against Clemson for the national championship.
Players hurried down the sideline. Thompson jumped to give her a shoulder bump. A pair of offensive linemen lifted her into the air.
Spurrier called it "the best play" of the scrimmage.
"I told her I wanted her to try to get a celebration penalty after she caught it, and she tried to," Spurrier said. "She tried to, but I think the players were hoisting her on their shoulders right then. It was neat. She enjoyed it also. I think her players did also.
"That was the first female off-the-bench play in my career. Have any of y'all ever seen the female off-the-bench play? By golly, we set history today, didn't we?"
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