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Gamecocks' Chad Terrell finds end zone in spring game, gives USC another option for fall

Chad Terrell

South Carolina's sixth-year senior Chad Terrell, who has dealt with torn ACLs in both knees, is healthy and hungry for playing time. Provided/USC Athletics

COLUMBIA — “Touchdown, Chad Terrell!,” boomed the Williams-Brice Stadium speakers, and even though he knew it was only a spring game, the South Carolina sixth-year senior skipped, hopped and bobbed his head nearly the length of the end zone celebrating his six points.

Reaching a goal after waiting over 2,000 days has been known to cause a general losing of the mind.

“It was just real relieving,” Terrell said after the Gamecocks' April 16 Garnet & Black Spring Game, when he finally scored after being shut out since 2017. “It was like hard work is kind of paying off.”

Yes, it was an extended scrimmage played in front of fans. No, the statistics don’t really count.

But Terrell’s touchdown and his other numbers — four catches, 49 yards — spoke. While spring games are often the time for anonymous players to receive the spotlight, only to return to the shadows once the season begins, this one felt different.

Coach Shane Beamer in just one season has made a habit of doing what he says he’s going to do, so his praise of Terrell and assurance that he’s on the list to get on the field in 2022 rang.

“He and I … talked before spring practice, ‘You need to step up. It’s time.’ And he has,” Beamer said. “He’s been a receiver his entire career. We don’t have a lot of tight ends right now because of injuries and guys not here, so he volunteers, we talk him into becoming a tight end for spring practice.

“He catches a touchdown pass out there tonight and has put himself in a position to play this fall.”

Terrell enrolled in 2017 and played in 10 games that season, only catching three passes but primed to be an integral part of the Gamecocks’ receiver corps the next three years. Instead, he ripped his left ACL during the next spring and while he came back to play four games in 2018, mostly on special teams, he redshirted.

Another nine games of action followed in 2019 and again Terrell was on the fast track to being on the two-deep for the rest of his career, but 2020 spring practice sent him back downhill. This time it was his right ACL that popped and cost him the entire year.

Last year was a new coach, new offense, a battered body and four games with no stats. It was a lot of route-running and then trudging back to the line or bench without even being an afterthought to get the ball thrown to him. The most action he was getting was during the week, when he’d mimic the opponent’s receivers on the scout team.

The season ended and Terrell thought he might as well pack it up and move on. Even in a season where the Gamecocks struggled to find receiving complements to Josh Vann, he couldn’t crack the rotation.

But his NCAA-issued, use-it-or-lose-it COVID year was there. Realistic about his professional football chances, Terrell knew that if he gave up football, he’d most likely never play again.

He couldn’t do it. Not yet.

“I kind of just felt like the opportunity that I wanted, I’ve never truly gotten because of injuries and other things. I was like, ‘Why not just try again?’” Terrell said. “If it’s another opportunity I could be missing out on, that would be a waste. So I just took it.”

A player with 27 games’ worth of experience but only seven receptions and no touchdowns went to the receivers’ meetings and Vann was there, along with Dakereon Joyner and Xavier Legette and Ahmarean Brown, who had a terrific bowl game. They were many of the same faces Terrell hadn’t been able to supplant the past five years.

Yet tight end Nick Muse was gone and Austin Stogner wouldn’t be enrolled until summer, and that position could use some help.

“Coach (Justin) Stepp and I literally just had a talk right before the week we had off before spring ball started,” Terrell said. “And he was like, ‘I think you should just give it a try.’”

Terrell did. Learning how to attempt to knock Jordan Burch off his pass-rushing route. Staying back to be the last line of defense for his quarterback instead of racing downfield, holding his hand up and calling for the ball. Seeing his reps increase when starter Jaheim Bell went down with a hamstring injury on the first day of spring.

So committed was he that he was a familiar sight on the practice field with the next day’s practice play sheet, walking through everything he was going to have to do step-by-step as the sun set. Although he shyly suggested that it was as much self-preservation as determination.

“I definitely knew I had to go over a whole lot of stuff and just try to keep up because if I didn’t, I would have absolutely no idea what I was doing,” he said. “I’m doing everything possible for me to know exactly what I’m doing and just be able to help affect whatever we’re doing as a team and just make an impact.”

Then there he was in the spring game, perched a step behind the right tackle as Luke Doty took the snap. Terrell turned and ran left behind the line, coached to look back as soon as he cleared the running back going behind him.

Doty flicked him the ball and Terrell saw what he desired. Vann was blocking the edge rusher and a hole had opened on the left side of the line.

Terrell stepped through it as defensive back Landon Grier futilely dove for his legs, covering safety R.J. Roderick a step too late as he vainly swiped at Terrell running past. Seemingly in disbelief that there was no one in front of him, Terrell slightly stumbled at the 10-yard line before straightening himself and finishing the run.

The end zone was as pretty as it’s always been, but what seemed his personal forbidden zone had the welcome mat down. It's doubtful his spring touchdown will be on the season’s highlight film.

But the opportunity to score another when it counts? It certainly looks a lot more real than it has the past five years.

“No matter what, you gotta push through it,” he said. “Some days are harder than others but the way I’ve done it is just always look for the end of it and just kept my head positive.”

Follow David Cloninger on Twitter @DCPandC.

From Rock Hill, S.C., David Cloninger covers Gamecock sports. He will not rest until he owns every great film and song ever recorded.