Welcome to GABA Q&A, the feature that asks us to share our experiences as Gamecock fans. We'll give our answers, and we encourage all commenters to share theirs in the comment section. The question won't focus so much on the state of athletics or analysis, but instead allow us to reminisce and tell personal stories about the highs and lows of our fandom.
This year has seen an exodus of beloved Gamecock players due to graduation/early draft departures. The football team lost several pillars of the 11-win seasons, baseball just saw the gems of its vaunted 2010 recruiting class snagged in the draft, and basketball bade farewell to lovable backcourters Brenton Williams and Bruce Ellington. Such is the nature of college sports: we become fiercely endeared to athletes only for their eligibility to be exhausted after a few short seasons. And while dozens of players depart each season, some are harder to let go of than others. Whether it's due to the familiarity resulting from a long tenure (Shaq Wilson) or the rush of an unforgettable albeit shorter stint (Matt Price, Marcus Lattimore), there's an abiding sense of post-partum depression that comes from bidding adieu to the most beloved Gamecock athletes.
This week's question: what player's departure was it hardest for you to process/accept? Coaches are excluded since their stints aren't dictated by constrictive eligibility rules. Also, any manner of departure counts, so don't write off expulsions/transfers. If they played for the Gamecocks, they're eligible.
While there exists a contingent of Gamecock fans who recall Stephen Garcia's tenure as little more than a series of bumbles, for me his departure marked the end of several eras. First of all, Garcia's first semester on campus was my last, and so his 2011 dismissal meant the erosion of one of the final bridges linking my professional existence and my collegiate glory days. But more importantly, I just liked the guy. While I welcomed a few years of detox via Connor Shaw's relatively undynamic personality (not to mention that "winning a shitload of games" stuff,) I appreciated having a badass at quarterback, even if it meant a fumble here or a conduct violation there. But steamrolling Will Hill in the UF blowout? Taking over against ECU and breaking off the touchdown run that proved to be a starter's pistol for Carolina's 2011 season? Upsets of Ole Miss and Bama? Classic and indelible Garcia-helmed moments, and spare me the "He just threw it up to Alshon" stuff. CAN'T YOU ANIMALS JUST LET HIM HAVE SOMETHING? Also, detractors race to impugn the kid's character, but it always feels hasty. What was the worst thing he did? PARTY? Andrew WK doesn't see the issue. Unfortunately, Stephen Garcia wasn't so elite a quarterback as to be forgiven for his behavioral hiccups (see: Manziel, Johnny) and he certainly wasn't squeaky clean enough to be coddled for his on-field inconsistencies (see: Tebow, Tim; professional era). Detractors used Garcia's shortcomings in one arena as a jumping-off point to attack the other. I chose not to take the guy's imperfections so personally, and continue to harbor some faint albeit irrational hope that the Cheese Wheeler may someday find his way to the League. If nothing else, I'd love to buy him a beer and tell him, "Hey man, I thought you were pretty damned great." Think what you will of Stephen Garcia, but you'll never convince me he did this program more harm than good.
Marcus Lattimore seems like the obvious answer, because his career was fraught with so many more difficulties than he deserved. Since so much ink has already been spilled over the tragedy of Marcus's college career, though, I'm going to go with another Gamecocks running back: Cory Boyd. I hated to see him go because I felt like he deserved a better ending to his career. Boyd transcended legal issues and injuries to become one of the better backs in the SEC by his senior season. Unfortunately, that season was the brutal 2007 campaign, the end of which we would all love to forget. One thing that's easy to forget about the end of that season is that despite the fact that he was running behind John Hunt's offensive line, Cory did his best to put the team on his shoulders. Had the Gamecocks not suffered so many injuries and the rest of the team came through, we'd have very fond memories of what Boyd did for us that year. Unfortunately, as it is, the memories are mostly "so close, yet so far" moments. Two I remember particularly are Boyd embarrassing star Tennessee safety Eric Berry on a touchdown run during the second half of the ill-fated comeback attempt in Knoxville and then of Boyd watching in disbelief as Darren McFadden squashed the Gamecocks' comeback attempt against Arkansas the following week. Really hated to see Boyd's career end like that.
I have a hard time accepting the departure of a lot of our athletes, but the most difficult player for me to see go was definitely Michael Roth. There are a handful of other players who I've had almost as much affection for, but Roth is probably my favorite player to ever wear a Gamecock uniform. What he did for USC on the baseball field still amazes me. That complete game against Clemson in the 2010 CWS would have made him a legend even if he had never pitched another game for us. But he did keep pitching for us and he kept winning and stepping up when we needed him. He was a key part of a run of postseason success that shattered records and made history not just at South Carolina, but in college baseball as a whole. He was a leader on the team and by the end of his college career he was the face of the best college baseball program in the country.
All of the baseball stuff may have ended up being enough to make Michael Roth my favorite player anyway, but I already really liked him before most of it happened because of an experience I had in the fall of 2010. One of the part time jobs I had in college was working at Little Caesars. As anybody who has ever working in food service knows, people in general are often terrible, so it was not usually a very fun job. On one particularly rough night, Michael Roth came in with a couple of other players. He was really funny, and was so genuinely kind and respectful to me that I instantly liked him as a person as well as a player. It was a very simple, maybe even commonplace experience, but it left a lasting impression on me.
Despite all of those things, I don't think I quite realized how hard it would be for me to watch Roth leave until his last home start, which came in the 2012 Super Regional against Oklahoma. I have no problem admitting that I got pretty emotional watching him walk off the mound in Carolina Stadium for the last time. Michael Roth was just a player that I never wanted to see leave USC, and he'll always have a special place in my heart.
Despite the fact that he hasn't even been gone that long yet, I'm going with Connor Shaw. Now that baseball season is over and I'm looking forward to football season, it's weird to think he won't be under center this season. The Missouri game obviously made him a legend, but it's his overall career and the way he conducted himself - on and off the field - that makes him one of my favorite Gamecocks of all time. I know athletes are approximately 650 percent tougher than I am and play through all sorts of stuff, but Connor's refusal to give anything less than his best and his ability to will the team to win, even when he was varying degrees of injured, made me really, really proud to have him in the Garnet and Black. I'll also never forget watching him get emotional after the Capital One Bowl, then going to the post-game presser and listening to him praise his teammates repeatedly, and finally seeing him find out from Spurrier that he was going to the Combine. Also, because I'm a sucker for stories like this one, I kind of love that he grew up idolizing Spurrier, then got to play for him and become the winningest QB in school history with the HBC as his coach.
Wait, Marcus Lattimore is still around? I get to pick Lattimore and no one will say "oh everyone picked him?" LATTIMORE THIS IS EASY!
Seriously, the only guy who came close for me otherwise was BJ McKie, who I watched growing up playing both high school and college, but his senior season was so damn sad you almost wanted to get him out of there so he didn't have to put up with it anymore.
Meanwhile, Lattimore was cut down right in the middle of what we thought was his season-long farewell tour. After having his sophomore season ended early, we wanted to see him help us take a run at the SEC championship, or at the least, finally get on the board against Clemson. Instead, we saw him suffer one of the most brutal injuries ever, a game I'm happy I was at in person both so I could give him one final ovation in a Carolina uniform, but also because it spared me having to watch the instant replay on television.
In a perverse way, I was thrilled when Marcus declared for the NFL Draft. I didn't want to see him injured anymore, and I wanted to make sure he didn't suffer a fate like that of Tyrone Prothro, who found himself out of football entirely due to an injury right before he entered the NFL Draft. But even though he got a massive cheer from friend and foe alike against the Volunteers that Saturday, it felt we were robbed of more memories and of the way he should've gone out - in style, a winner, on his feet, running yet another ball into the end zone for 6.
Love you, Marcus.
I'm going to go with a guy who gained half a yard more per carry than the unimpeachable legend Marcus Lattimore during his career at South Carolina.
You guessed it: Demetris Summers. (And let's go ahead and get this out of the way now, Internet: stop calling him Demetrius Summers. STOP. IT.)
The Lexington, S.C. native came in as a five-star prospect and the No. 1 running back in the country, turning down offers from the likes of Oklahoma to stay with the hometown Gamecocks. Sure, he left the program in a cloud of ignominy -- he was one of many players to be dismissed from the program during the offseason that bridged the Lou Holtz and Steve Spurrier eras -- but let's not forget what a beacon of hope he was when he signed and, more importantly, when he was healthy enough to clutch the ball in his hands and run.
His best game came in a heart-breaking overtime loss to Tennessee during his freshman season. Summers carried the ball 27 times for 158 yards in a star-making performance before a national television audience. Nagging injuries and Holtz's distrust of underclassmen kept him from ever being an every-down workhorse, but he would have had two more seasons to prove that he could stay healthy had his enjoyment of cannibis not derailed his football career.
Talent-wise, I'd argue that he's right up there with Mike Davis (this Mike Davis), and I'd love to have seen what he could have done running behind the likes of Corey Robinson, A.J. Cann, and Brandon Shell.
Your turn! Leave your answer and explanation in the comments section.