COLUMBIA — Former South Carolina quarterback Phil Petty died early Thursday morning at a local hospital following a sudden illness. He was 43.
Petty, a Boiling Springs native who played during one of the most interesting stretches of Gamecock football from 1998-01, was hired as an assistant coach at Columbia’s Gray Collegiate Academy in April. He had recently gotten back into coaching after working at The Hammond School shortly after he graduated, parlaying that into a graduate assistant spot at USC.
Petty also worked at East Carolina for Skip Holtz, who was a USC assistant during Petty’s playing career.
“Just that cool, calm demeanor. Just that typical quarterback, the guy you wanted running your team,” remembered Langston Moore, a teammate of Petty’s from 1999-02. “That’s who he was off the field, too. It’s so sad to hear he’s gone.
“Seeing him out there with his son, his son wearing Phil’s old helmet, throwing the ball around … this is tough.”
Petty was with the Gamecocks when they posted a 1-21 record over the 1998 and 1999 seasons, with all 21 losses in a row, that bridged the end of coach Brad Scott’s tenure and the beginning of Lou Holtz’s reign. He started for three years, including when the Gamecocks recorded one of the biggest turnarounds in college football history in 2000.
USC won eight games that season after winning none the year before, and then they won nine more in 2001, each year capped by defeating Ohio State in the Outback Bowl. Petty was named the game’s MVP as a senior.
“He was a brother to all of us, such an integral part of the group that we have,” said another teammate, Ryan Brewer. “This one hurts, man.”
When he graduated, Petty’s 17 career victories was one of the best totals in program history. He still ranks eighth on USC’s career passing chart with 5,652 yards and his 28 touchdowns remain tied for 10th.
Two of his memorable touchdown throws were to Rod Trafford to beat Alabama and to Brian Scott to beat Georgia, each in 2001. Petty engineered a comeback from a 36-24 deficit for the Gamecocks' first-ever win over the Crimson Tide and against Georgia, threw to Scott while trailing 9-7 with less than 90 seconds to play.
Scott plucked the ball out of the covering defensive back's hands and fell into the end zone as the Gamecocks notched their second straight win over the Bulldogs.
Petty is survived by his wife, Morgan, and two children.