COLUMBIA — He’ll speak about the personal things that he wants known. The story of how he broke his leg in high school, and the steel rod that was implanted to rebuild it, is a popular one as he still has that rod mounted in a frame in his office.
But getting Will Muschamp to really open up is the 13th labor of Hercules. South Carolina’s football coach likes to keep the talk about the team, not him.
“He was very similar then to what you see today. Will was, is, just a tremendous leader, with tremendous passion for the game of football,” said former Georgia quarterback Eric Zeier. “I was proud and privileged to call him a friend back then and that still holds true now.”
Zeier has a unique perspective on Muschamp. There are plenty of Georgia teammates who can give a few details about Muschamp, but only one that roomed with Muschamp throughout their college tenure.
“It’s odd that you’d arbitrarily be placed somewhere and you end up being roommates for four years,” said Zeier, who played six seasons in the NFL and is now the color analyst for Georgia’s radio crew. “Will was a walk-on and was rooming by himself, but they joined the two of us up and we were joined at the hip from that point forward.”
Zeier was one of the first high school recruits to do what is now common — enroll in January to get a head start on spring practice. He arrived at Georgia in 1991 and like many, was impressed by how feverishly diligent Muschamp was about the game.
“He'd had that substantial leg injury,” Zeier said, referring to Muschamp's junior year of high school when he shattered his leg and subsequently saw his scholarship offers disappear. “He just had a fight and desire to make his way back. Most would have hung up the cleats.”
The two bonded nearly immediately, and took that to the practice field.
“They were probably 30 miles apart growing up, and obviously Eric was the one everyone knew because he was an All-American quarterback and Will tackled people,” said Ray Goff, Georgia’s coach from 1989-95 (and a USC assistant from 1978-80). “You couldn’t ask for two better guys on the team.”
Goff remembered two kids that would do anything to win. He also doesn’t remember having to tell them to check themselves once they became seniors and big men on campus ... at least not often.
“I’m sure between the two of them, I maybe had to tell them once or twice,” Goff said. “Will walked tall and he got a scholarship quick because he was really a good player for us. He knew the game. And so did Zeier. Couldn’t have had a better QB than him.”
Zeier won the starting job halfway through his freshman season and left Georgia with a bushel of school and SEC records, still ranking fifth in league history in career passing yards. Muschamp, whose defensive coordinator was Richard Bell (USC's head coach in 1982), also became a team captain and starting safety in 1994.
But what about off the field? Zeier and Muschamp ever see how many freshmen they could pack into a phone booth or drive to Wyoming in the middle of the night, just for the hell of it?
“I don’t know if any of those should come out … ,” Zeier chuckled. “I will tell you, our families became close. We would take spring break together, spend long weekends or holidays at each other’s houses. You become brothers in that kind of situation.”
They had a group of several (one was linebacker Whit Marshall, who had a cousin at Ole Miss named Carol Davis. She became Mrs. Will Muschamp in 1999). They’d take trips to Zeier’s grandparents’ house in Pensacola, and found one of those super-cheap deals for a summer cruise to the Bahamas just before the 1994 season.
They also had a few traditions during the season, all surrounding golf. For Friday home games, after practice and class, they’d head to the university’s course for nine holes.
“Eric won 'em all,” Muschamp confirmed. “I wasn't very good at golf.”
Then it was night after night, in season and out, talking and growing as players and people. Zeier would target Muschamp during practice, giving his roomie chances to make plays, and then break it down at night.
“We would just diagram plays in our room,” Zeier said. “Offense vs. defense, strategically how we’d approach the game.”
Zeier is still one of Muschamp’s closest friends and they get together when they can. The other nostalgia doesn’t play into Muschamp’s game prep, though.
“I enjoyed it probably too much there in my time in college, but I had a great experience,” Muschamp said. “I've really only been back to Georgia, one time at LSU, (two times among two stops) at Auburn and one time at South Carolina in my coaching career.”
He’ll make his second trip to Athens as USC’s coach on Saturday. Zeier will be in the radio booth. Their former teammate Kirby Smart is the Bulldogs’ head coach.
Muschamp won’t waste time getting sentimental beforehand, but getting a win in what’s pretty much a homecoming?
That would be something to talk about.