COLUMBIA — There will be no repeat performance for Deebo Samuel at Bank of America Stadium … unless it’s in an NFL game.
South Carolina’s most dynamic playmaker announced Monday that he will not play in the Belk Bowl so he can get a head start on training for his NFL career. Scheduled to graduate in December and having had numerous injuries during his five years at USC, Samuel won’t risk getting hurt again.
“I came back for my senior year to play another season in front of the most passionate fans in the country and graduate. I now have a chance to support my family and community in a way that could impact so many around me,” Samuel wrote via Instagram. “As much as I would love to suit up one last time for the Gamecocks, having those extra weeks to better prepare for the NFL will be crucial.”
Samuel also said he would attend the game and thanked his fans, although they’ll be deprived of another potential career day in Charlotte. The Gamecocks opened the season there in 2017 against N.C. State, and it turned into a 35-28 win referred to as “The Deebo Game.”
He returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown and caught two passes for touchdowns among his five receptions that day.
Samuel's decision is part of a growing trend in college football. Unless players are in a College Football Playoff game, there’s no need to risk injury and potential NFL dollars by getting hurt in what some label a meaningless game.
There are arguments for both sides, some preaching loyalty and some looking at the common-sense approach toward landing an NFL contract. Former USC tight end Hayden Hurst announced his intention to bypass his senior year before the Outback Bowl last season, but made it clear he was going to play in the game. He was drafted in the first round.
But there is the case of former Michigan tight end Jake Butt, who was projected as a first-round pick when he bypassed the draft as a junior, played the entire next season and blew out a knee in the bowl game. While he was still drafted, he slid to the fifth round and cost himself an estimated $2.8 million.
“I personally support his decision,” USC coach Will Muschamp said in a statement. “Deebo has been a great student-athlete, both on and off the field, at the University of South Carolina and will graduate on Dec. 17. We appreciate all of his contributions to the university and wish him the best of luck as he pursues his dream of playing in the NFL.”
Samuel was considering going pro after the 2017 season, even getting his picture taken with the seniors on preseason picture day. His stock was soaring after he scored six touchdowns in USC’s first three games, but a broken leg in that third game ended his year.
It was the latest malady in a career that featured balky hamstrings limiting him to 15 games from 2015-16. Yet he chose to come back as a senior.
He was named first-team All-SEC as an all-purpose player and second-team as a wide receiver. Samuel led the Gamecocks with 62 catches for 882 yards and 11 touchdowns, also throwing a 13-yard touchdown.
Samuel returned a USC record and SEC record-tying four kickoffs for touchdowns in his career and capped it with a defensive touchdown, jumping on a fumbled punt snap in the end zone against Akron Saturday. He finished eighth in school history with 148 catches, 10th with 2,076 receiving yards, eighth with 3,457 all-purpose yards and tied for fourth with 28 touchdowns.