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A Tight-Knit Family: Rodney Paulk Ready to Take On His Brother and ECU

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When South Carolina takes the field September 3rd at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, it won't just be the Gamecocks and Pirates facing off - it will also be the battle of Busta versus Scoota.

Gamecock senior linebacker Rodney Paulk (nicknamed "Busta" by his parents) will be playing against his younger brother, ECU junior defensive back Leonard Paulk (a.k.a. "Scoota"), for the first time.

Just two years apart in age, Rodney and Leonard played side by side throughout childhood, almost always together on the same team in recreational football as children and later as teammates at Richland Northeast High School in Columbia. Their youngest brother, Darius "Bear" Paulk, is a senior tailback at RNE this year.

rodney paulk and scoota (highschool).jpgNow, the tight-knit Paulk family will get their first opportunity to see Rodney and Leonard share the same field since they both last played for RNE in 2005. Even with their boys facing off as opponents, the family isn't worried about who they will cheer for. Parents Leonard and Sonya Paulk have made themselves half and half jerseys - South Carolina on one side, East Carolina on the other side. 

"They just want both of us to go out there and play well," said the younger Leonard. "I'm just going to play my game and I know he's going to do the same. We don't get caught up in the hype. We just go out there and play."

"They're going to pray for both of us, pray nobody gets hurt and they'll wish the best on my side and on his side," added Rodney. "It's always fun playing with your brother out there. It's just something that's rarely done nowadays...We're just going to go out there and play ball, we're family but we're still going to do what we have to do."

Growing up Rodney and Leonard were always close. Whether it was fishing, hunting, running, video games, chess or checkers, they always kept a good-natured competitive spirit between them. The two talk on the phone regularly to catch up on how things are going both on and off the field.  

rodney paulk and scoota (young).jpg"I look to [Rodney] for everything," explained Leonard. "He's the one who got me involved in football. If it weren't for him I wouldn't be in football. He's one who got me out there working hard, taught me about the weight room, taught me how to read coverages, stuff like that. I learned a lot from him, I look up to him. He's my role model."

In addition to their tight bond as brothers, Rodney and Leonard have great respect for each other on the field that showed throughout my conversations with them. Though they'll be rooting for their own teams, they both want the other to play their best. Rodney described his brother as the perfect size for a defensive back. The 5'11", 192-pound Leonard has great quickness, lateral movement and a knack for hitting that serves him well both as a DB and on special teams. 

"My favorite thing [about Leonard] is that he's physical," said Rodney. "He plays really tough. He reminds me of myself - he's real aggressive and goes hard every play."

In June 2010 Rodney was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA after
Rodney Paulk vs. Furman.jpeg sitting out both the 2008 and 2009 seasons with knee injuries. He has already earned his degree from South Carolina in a unique major, Marine Science. The support of his family helped him get through the injuries and not give up on returning to play and now he's one of the leaders for the Gamecocks as the starter at Will linebacker. Rodney's perseverance inspired Leonard, who says Rodney's ability to stay humble and overcome adversity is his favorite thing about him as a player.

"He's the one who taught me how to go through adversity," explained Leonard. "He went through two injuries having to sit out and has still been able to bounce back and he doesn't let himself get down. He knows how to fight against adversity and stay humble."

As close as they are, on September 3rd, they'll have to look at each other as just another opponent. One Pirate, #25. One Gamecock, #45.

"We've been talking about it since we found out we were going to play each other," said Rodney. "We're just going to make this a memorable day, try to go out there and have fun. It's probably a once in a lifetime opportunity so we just got to go out there and make the most out of it. I know he's going to go out there and do his thing on his side of the field and I'm going to do mine."

As for the stories behind the Busta and Scoota nicknames they've had since birth?

"Sorry," Rodney said with a smile. "It's a family secret."

South Carolina opens the season versus East Carolina on September 3rd at 7:00 p.m. in Charlotte at Bank of America Stadium. Tickets are still available via Ticketmaster.

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