LSU's Tiger Stadium (capacity: 93,129) could fit nearly the entire population of Greenwood, S.C. (23,342) four times over. So how did this modest town 90 minutes northwest of Columbia become central casting for a defensive showdown between the Gamecocks and Tigers?
LSU defensive end Sam Montgomery, South Carolina defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles, and free safety D.J. Swearinger all starred together at Greenwood High School, graduating within a year of each other. They'll meet again when their top-10 defenses face off in Baton Rouge (#3 South Carolina vs. #9 LSU, 8:00 p.m. EST, Gamecock IMG Sports Network).
LSU defensive end, and Greenwood, S.C., native, Sam Montgomery.
The "Greenwood Three" has each made an impact in 2012. Swearinger leads the Gamecocks in pass breakups, and has a reputation as one of the SEC's most hellacious hitters. Quarles was a Freshman All-American in 2011, and helps anchor a defensive front that ranks 9th nationally against the run. Montgomery may be the most decorated: a 3rd-team All-American as a sophomore, he finished with 9.0 sacks in 2011, the fourth highest total in LSU school history. Adding to the reunion, Gamecock graduate assistant Dennis Thomas coached them as an Eagles defensive coach.
Outside the press conference, Quarles and Swearinger shared their memories of playing with Montgomery, a high-energy hitmaker who projects as a top pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.
Before they wreaked havoc on the football field, Swearinger was teammates with Montgomery on the basketball court.
"We played AAU together," Swearinger said of their time as 10 year-olds on the Greenwood Lakers. "I'd say our houses were 5 to 7 minutes apart."
It was at Greenwood that Montgomery, an avid video game player, took to calling himself "Sonic," after the Sonic The Hedgehog character. Swearinger said Montgomery took the nickname a step further.
"Before every play he used to get the defense to 'power up.' Everybody would do a little scream," Swearinger said, puffing his chest out to demonstrate. "He's a different guy. He's always going to make you laugh."
Quarles - who crouched on opposite sides of the line with Montgomery - elaborated.
At Greenwood HS, Montgomery gave himself the nickname "Sonic" - and with it, an eccentric catchphrase.
"It was at practice, it was at games. He would just start yelling 'Power Up!' and everybody would get crazy. Everybody would start yelling, saying anything that came to mind. It intimidated a lot of people," the sophomore said.
Their success comes as little surprise to Shell Dula, their former head coach at Greenwood. Dula plans on taking a bus trip with his wife to Baton Rouge, and sitting in the Gamecocks section to watch his former pupils. The mere mention of their names sends the retired 32-year coach into an unprompted bit of rhapsodizing.
D.J. Swearinger, another member of Saturday's "Greenwood Three."
Tiger Stadium may look like a throbbing, hostile SEC stadium Saturday. But for D.J. Swearinger and Kelcy Quarles, it will still feel like a little slice of home.
Other notes as we dive into our prep for the October edition of Gamecocks vs. Tigers in Death Valley:
Spotty Connection? South Carolina used a pair of big pass plays to propel them to touchdowns against Georgia. On the opening drive, Damiere Byrd outwrestled All-American safety Bacarri Rambo for a jump ball, resulting in a 46-yard gain. Late in the third quarter, Connor Shaw connected D.L. Moore for a 62-yard catch and run to the Georgia 1.
Big plays may be at a minimum against the Tigers: LSU has allowed 2 plays of 30+ yards, tied for the fewest in the nation. Can the Gamecocks still find a "break-open" play or two, and leech the energy from Tiger Stadium?
Oh Brother: Offensive tackle Mike Matulis has a connection to LSU: his older brother Chris was a left-handed pitcher for the Tigers before transferring to UCF (oddly, Chris' LSU bio doesn't list Mike among his three siblings). The younger Matulis, bothered by an ailing shoulder, played the final three snaps against Georgia. Steve Spurrier says he expects him to be more available against LSU.
Big Game Hunter: Even without Tyrann "Honey Badger" Mathieu, LSU's defense is loaded with physical, indentation-leaving players. The Tigers rank in the top 10 nationally in three different categories: total defense (3rd), pass defense (2nd), and scoring defense (8th). And no player raises his game against high-ranked competition better than LSU junior safety Eric Reid. The 2011 2nd Team All-SEC defensive back played in three games against Top-3 opponents last season (#1 Alabama, #2 Alabama, #3 Oregon). Check out his numbers from those three games:
Eric Reid (3 GP): 21 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FF, 1 FR
That included a career-high 11 tackles in the BCS National Championship game.
Looking to steer clear of a momen
We're only getting started. Check back Friday for our final "Pre-Snap Reads" before Carolina descends into Death Valley. -AD--