Corporal Kyle Carpenter never sought out to be a celebrity or a hero, but the retired United States Marine is a big man on campus. Carpenter received the Congressional Medal of Honor on June 19 after stepping in front of a grenade to save fellow Marines and suffering serious injuries while serving in Afghanistan in 2010. While he tries to go about life as a regular college student at South Carolina, he'll have the spotlight shown on him at least once more as he's been tabbed the celebrity starter for the Gamecock football game against Texas A&M Thursday night at Williams-Brice Stadium.
"Out of all the stuff I've been fortunate enough to do, this is the only thing I've been nervous about," Carpenter said. "It's not like I have to do anything other than scream into the microphone and let the crowd handle the rest. I love South Carolina, and I just want to do a good job. I'm really excited about it."
The 24 year old sophomore will be on the field prior to kick-off to get the sellout crowd of more than 80,000 fans fired up by starting the alternating "Game-Cocks" cheer.
"I love South Carolina, and I just want to do a good job."
"It has been a pure honor and joy getting to know Kyle," said Josh Waters, director of marketing. "Having him speak to a few of our teams and be around South Carolina Athletics is something I will never forget. Kyle is probably the bravest man I have ever met, and being able to call him a personal friend and a friend of the departments is humbling. I can't wait to see the reception he receives.
Since receiving the United States military's highest award for valor in action, life has certainly changed for the Mississippi native whose family has spent the last eight years in Gilbert, South Carolina.
"There's a professional side and student side of my life," Carpenter said. "People recognize me on campus, and I'm very honored by that. They understand and treat me just like any other student who is trying to get an education. It's more of when I get done with school and then fly out to California or Washington, D.C., to go speak to people - that's when I can tell things are really different for me. It's all good stuff, but it's definitely an adjustment."
Carpenter is booked during every possible break in his schedule for the next six months with various speaking engagements. While he doesn't get tired of telling his story, he does look forward to the day when he can relax with nothing on his schedule other than classes. For now, he is very happy to be a student majoring in international studies with a minor in psychology.
"The best part is trying to discover who I am and what I want to do with the rest of my life," Carpenter said. "I spent five years in the Marines. Being a full-time Marine and spending time in Afghanistan is a lot different than being able to make your own choices and being able to go to school and study and enjoy the benefits of what my fellow Marines and I fought for. I really enjoy going to class and going through the day as a student."
The average student may complain about a hard day of classes or having to study for two exams on the same day, but Carpenter isn't one to judge another person's perception of a tough day.
"No matter where you are in the world, somebody is having the worst day of their life, so I just have to understand and let things role off my back," Carpenter said. "I try to put myself in other people's shoes. I understand that they really might be struggling through a class, and I get it. I'm always willing and open to share my experiences with others."
Having already enjoyed his first few days of classes, Carpenter is ready to cheer for the Gamecocks and enjoy all that is great about being a student at the University of South Carolina.
"I will definitely never bleed anything other than garnet and black now; that's for sure," Carpenter said. I think it's going to be a really great semester here."