COLUMBIA — The pass was overthrown. Out-of-bounds. No way that’s good.
With Deebo Samuel, all things are possible.
South Carolina's wide receiver reached with his left arm, got his foot on the green before it hit the garnet of the boundary, pinned the ball against his shoulder pads and tumbled to the ground. The crowd “ooohed” only for a second before it applauded, but not because it was unimpressed.
It was so used to it, and glad to have it back, it had to mix the two reactions.
“I was just thanking God for the opportunity,” Samuel said after the Gamecocks' 49-15 victory over Coastal Carolina on Saturday.
It was just over a year ago when Samuel was cruelly taken away at the height of his career. He’d scored six touchdowns in 11 quarters, two on kickoff returns, and a vision of a kid named Deebo brushing shoulders with the rest of the Heisman hopefuls wasn’t too far-fetched.
Then his left leg gave out against Kentucky, the latest injury in an injury-pocked career and by far the worst. Samuel didn’t have to come back, but he seemed to know that a 6-foot slot receiver with a history of injuries didn’t stand too much of a chance of being drafted by an NFL team.
More rehab, more work, more questions of “do you think you’ll be OK?” Nothing he hadn’t heard before and definitely something he doesn’t want to hear again.
“It’s hard sometimes as a parent or coach to say ‘it’s going to be better,’” coach Will Muschamp said. “They get tired of hearing that after a while. You need results.”
Saturday was the result. Samuel didn’t get to do what he does on kick returns — Coastal Carolina wisely tried as hard as possible to stay away from him — but he caught seven passes, rushed for 11 yards and had another “Oh my goodness!” touchdown.
It was poetic. Samuel’s hands and the way he can work his upper body have never been in question. It’s been his hamstrings, and last year it was his left leg.
The foot that scored that touchdown was on that same left leg.