The sounds of "2001" playing and more than 80,000 people cheering would be more than enough to get any football player amped up to play. One Gamecock has an even bigger source of motivation.
"Every time I come out of the tunnel he's sitting right there [in the south end zone]," says sophomore defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles. "When I see him standing up and clapping it really motivates me to see him smiling. It makes me want to go harder and play harder for him."
The "him" is Kelcy's father, Buddy Quarles, who played offensive line for the Gamecocks and head coach Joe Morrison from 1984 to 1987. Buddy sits in the south end zone in accessible seating, having had one of his legs amputated due to complications from diabetes.
"Seeing that I have all these medical problems, I am thrilled to get to see him play. He hadn't gotten to Carolina yet and knew that I was going to lose one of my legs and I did. It didn't affect me too much but everything that happens with me affects him," Buddy said. "We try to get together with other parents and go to all the games because once it's over, it's over. Being down there to watch him play is a big thrill and I don't want to miss too many."
Buddy and Kelcy's mother, Mattie Quarles, are a strong presence at Carolina games, tailgating each week with their "Greenwood compadres", the Swearinger family (parents to senior safety D.J. Swearinger who also attended Greenwood High School with Kelcy). Mattie is the cook of the group. She loves to eat and feed people, even buying a small grill from another fan last game to use for cooking ribs this Saturday.
"I love my parents. If it weren't for them I really wouldn't be here with all the stuff I had to go through just to get here," Kelcy said. "My daddy is the football side, but my momma runs everything else. She's letting me grow up, but if it weren't for her, I wouldn't be the person I am off the field."
Following in their Footsteps
Kelcy has followed in both of his parents' footsteps. Some of the ways he patterns after them are more obvious in that he is playing football for the same school where his father played, but it also carries into his everyday behavior, attitude, and giving personality.
Kelcy began playing football when he was about four years old. In addition to Buddy's gridiron genes, Mattie's brother also was a football player - New England Patriots Hall of Fame tight end Ben Coates. Buddy coached Kelcy in little league and pee wee football teams and got him going in football. Once Kelcy made the switch to playing defensive line around eighth grade, Buddy continued to teach him the tips and tricks of offensive linemen so that he would know what to look for. Kelcy was highly recruited out of Greenwood High School, playing in the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas and in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl and being named a Parade All-American. After spending fall 2010 at Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia, he enrolled at South Carolina in January 2011. He played in 12 of 13 games, even working his way up to the starting line-up for the final six games of the Gamecocks' record-breaking 2011 season. Now in 2012 he is one of the anchors of a defensive line considered to be among the best in the country. Through three games he has collected 12 tackles, including two sacks.
"In high school I didn't take school seriously enough," Kelcy admitted. "I went to military school and I kept calling my mom and she kept saying, 'I told you you had to do some work to get somewhere.' And I look at some other guys and you can tell what they have at home and whose parents stayed on them."
Kelcy puts a lot of emphasis on how thankful he is for his parents. Even now with the added freedom of college, his momma's voice is always in his mind. He got used to "a certain pace of things" with how he grew up and once in college he really didn't want to change, saying that while he might go celebrate after games on occasion, he's usually in the house or in bed by 10 p.m. He believes that it carries over to his success on the field.
"Some people are just blessed to have talent and fortunately I was blessed with talent and blessed with good parents that if I ever got out of line I was straightened up right then and there, no ifs ands or buts about it. I really do thank God for my parents," Kelcy said.
"Sometimes it's good to just hear what my momma has to say. Even though sometimes I don't want to listen, I know at the end of the day if I lie down and think about it it's going to be helpful," Kelcy said. "She has a look that if I ever think of doing something wrong down here or not going to class, I could just think of what she'd say or what would happen."
Mattie added, "His dad is the one who will kind of let him get away with stuff. I'm the disciplinarian. He'll tell you 'I'm scared of my momma.' ... He knows my motto - I have gas and I will travel."
Expectations on his behavior aren't the only mantras Mattie has ingrained in him. Her caring and giving nature has also rubbed off on her son. Mattie is an associate pastor with a love of helping other people, especially kids. When her children were young she always had them help pick out Christmas gifts for other children in an angel tree program. She spends a lot of her time volunteering with local youth and soup kitchens. Now, with both of her children out of the house, she is a licensed foster parent currently caring for a young girl.
She shared a story that recently, even after undergoing surgery, she still left the house with Kelcy helping her by her side to deliver food to someone in need. When Kelcy returned to the car and a waiting Mattie, he told her in shock, "I went to school with that guy." Mattie shared that those stories help Kelcy appreciate his life and blessings more.
"Some people on the team say 'you help people out too much' but it's just hereditary," Kelcy said. "If I see other people struggle I go help them too...Wherever she's called to go she goes and she does a great job. She's really about youth because of what I had to go through in school. She tells my story, tells things that I did wrong and makes sure they don't do the same. She's just trying to have an impact on children's lives."
Surrounded by Support
As close as Mattie and Buddy are to Kelcy, it's not very surprising that the highly recruited player chose to stay close to home at South Carolina. The longer trip to Fork Union where Kelcy started was rough on Mattie.
"I drove 7.5 hours back and forth from Virginia in the same day to take him to Fork Union. It was the first time I had taken my baby that far away, it was the first time he had ever been away from home that long," Mattie said. "It was like I dropped my heart off there on August 17th and picked it up in December."
The drive from Greenwood to Columbia is relatively short, but the loving mother's concern is slightly helped by a strong support system for Kelcy at South Carolina.
It starts very close to home with senior safety D.J. Swearinger. The Swearinger and Quarles families are very close and watch out for each other's children. As Kelcy said last year, "No matter where you go, if you played for Greenwood, it's like a big brotherhood."
"I look up to D.J. like a real big brother. He's a leader... I'd do anything for him."
Kelcy also has two other former Gamecock defensive linemen to turn to. Dennis Thomas, a Gamecock Football alum who was a coach at Greenwood High and now works back at Carolina as a graduate assistant, and Kevin "Chief" Hendrix, who was a teammate of Buddy's in the '80s.
"People tell me stories all the time about my dad; it's funny how every time someone tells a story it seems like Chief has something to do with it," Kelcy said. "They were pretty good buddies. Chief became like another father to me."
"When I told Chief Kelcy was coming [to Columbia] I told him to look out for him and motivate him, keep him out of trouble," Buddy explained. "Chief takes care of him, invites him over to his house. He is like my eyes when I can't be down there. I told Kelcy if there's anything he needs to go to him and he'll take care of it if I can't be there."
Mattie shared that she felt confident putting her trust in defensive line coach Brad Lawing, Raymond Harrison (Associate AD/Academics and Life Skills), and Maria Hickman (Director of Academics who works directly with the football team) to help keep her son on the right path. Her no-nonsense demeanor surfaces as she shared what she warned Kelcy:
"I better never get a call from Raymond, Maria, or Coach Lawing."
While Kelcy has his support system in Columbia, Mattie relies on her faith and the support of other football parents for any tough times. In addition to the Quarles' close friendship with the Swearingers, the parents of the football players are a tightly knit group.
"We all talk. Yolanda [Smith, Marcus Lattimore's mother] calls me and we talk about the boys because 'boys will be boys.' Libby Anne [Inabinet, mother of Walker Inabinet] keeps up posted when we go to away games in terms of which gate to pick up our tickets and meeting up to see the boys before and after the game. We encourage each other and just help each other out. If it happens to our child it happens to us. I really like that part."
As Mattie lamented, "raising kids is tough these days," but for his part, Kelcy seems to know he is fortunate to have the loving parents and support he does.
"Sometimes I look at other people and I really appreciate what I have because some people don't have a mom like that to stay on them 24/7 and I believe that's going to help me out in the long run...you will probably raise your kids just like you were raised and kids need to appreciate their family. You only have one mom and dad and once they're gone, they're gone. I appreciate mine and love them. That's why I play hard, go to class and do all the little things right."
*Family photos courtesy of Mattie Quarles