April 5, 2016
By Brad Muller | More Features
It’s the game before the game. South Carolina football alumni will be the opening act prior to Saturday’s annual Garnet & Black Spring Game, but for the participants, and many fans as well, this could be a headline event of its own. Beginning at 11 a.m. on Saturday, more than 100 former Gamecock football lettermen will take part in a flag football game on the north end of Williams-Brice Stadium.
“This was Coach (Will) Muschamp’s idea,” said former running back and USC Association of Lettermen President Ryan Brewer (1999-2002). “He’s been great with the former players and all of the lettermen so far. He wanted to get everybody back, get them on the field, and see if any of the old guys can still run around.”
“This is great because I'm 77, and it’s just a chance to get back and not set any records whatsoever, except being the slowest guy on the team,” said Humpy Wheeler (1958-1959). “Just to mingle with guys that I played with or some guys you've heard about and never met, it's really great.”
The response has been outstanding and a practice session held on Monday night for the alumni may have smelled like a Ben Gay factory, but the event brings back a lot familiar names including legendary quarterbacks Jeff Grantz (1973-75), Mike Hold (1984-1985), and Todd Ellis (1986-89).
“It is so great that the coaching staff reached out to us,” Hold said. “I just want to support that. I went to the Lettermen’s Club meeting and Coach Muschamp talked about getting all of us alumni involved and how important we were. That was just cool. He is making that effort, so I feel a responsibility to be a part of it and help foster it.”
“It’s a nod to the past and to South Carolina players who contributed to what has been done,” Ellis said. “It’s also a great way to keep people in touch with our current program and create a relationship with Coach Muschamp and his staff. I give Clyde Wrenn in the football office a lot of credit for helping make this happen as well.”
“Coach Muschamp has really embraced all of the lettermen, so I'm really excited about that,” Grantz added. “I want to be involved. I'm going to embrace his efforts and aspirations. I just think it’s a great thing to get all the guys together. We're all excited about it.”
Participants and non-playing attendees range from many eras of South Carolina football including current NFL players such as Damiere Byrd (2011-14) and Jared Cook (2006-08), and other notables such as record-setting running back Marcus Lattimore (2010-12) and Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers (1977-80).
“I don’t know what the contracts say for those guys playing in the NFL,” Brewer said. “I’m hoping Damiere and Jared can play because they’re on the ‘Garnet’ team, which is my team. They might just be there for moral support, but it will be great to have a big deal at halftime of the Spring Game with all of the fans as well.”
The most “seasoned” attendee will be South Carolina’s first Associated Press All-American Lou Sossamon (1940-42).
“Any role we can get him in would be awesome,” Brewer said. “We’ll figure something out. I’m getting chills just thinking about having him there.”
Coach Spurrier came in and blew the doors off, taking the program to a different level. To have Coach Muschamp come in with all the enthusiasm and his work in recruiting, it’s exciting to see.
As much as they are all looking forward to being on the field, there aren’t too many willing to trash talk about what they may or may not do if they choose to play in the game. Self-deprecating humor seems to be the order of the day.
“I don’t know if I’ll be an ‘Iron Man,’ but I will see if I can get two or three plays in,” Brewer laughed. “Then I’ll get the oxygen mask on and see if I can run a few more plays after that. I spoke to a few guys from the 1969 ACC Championship team, and they were telling each other not to try to run around now to see if they can play because if you go out there and practice, you’ll realize you can’t do it. So it’s better to just wait until game day and get the adrenaline going.”
“If I feel like I’m not going to embarrass myself, I’ll push forward and give it a shot,” Hold said. “If nothing else, you’re going to get a lot of guys to come back and be a part of it, whether they play or not.”
“I’m not surprised at how many people said they would come back,” Ellis said. “I am surprised at how many people said they might play. I will likely not play any snaps; maybe one. Mike Hold is one of the best athletes I’ve ever known, so I’m counting on him to take all of the snaps.”
Although the game hasn’t been played yet, there are some who are already open to the idea of this becoming an annual event.
“It probably depends on how many hamstrings get blown out,” Ellis quipped. “It sounds like a lot of fun. We’ll have to have the insurance policies in place and have some medical attendants out there as well.”
“I can speak for a lot of guys that I played with,” Hold said. “Being invited back really means a lot to us. Guys like (Athletics Director) Ray Tanner and Clyde Wrenn have done a great job of getting guys like us back into the fold. And for the head coach (Muschamp) to come out and talk about how important it was, that meant a lot. We’re just excited that we can come to practice and stuff like that.
“Coach Spurrier came in and blew the doors off, taking the program to a different level. To have Coach Muschamp come in with all the enthusiasm and his work in recruiting, it’s exciting to see. Good things are on the horizon to build on what Coach Spurrier had done.”
The football alumni will be introduced at halftime, and will participate in an hour-long autograph session on the field following the game.
The Williams-Brice Stadium gates will open at 10:30 a.m. Fans are asked to sit in the lower bowl on either the east or west side on a general admission basis. In addition, there are several upgrade opportunities, such as 50-yard line seating, available within the official South Carolina Gameday app or at GamecocksOnline.com/upgrades.
The 2016 football schedule posters will be available in Gamecock Village, which will open at 9:30 a.m. Fans are allowed up to five posters per person while supplies last. Lettermen will once again be selling the official spring game program for $5.
The Garnet & Black Spring Game begins at noon. Admission is free.
Gallery from Monday's alumni practice.
- Women's Sports
- Fan Zone
- Gamecock Club
- Academic Services
- Active Gamecocks
- Annual Reports
- Brag Points
- Communications and Public Relations
- Community Outreach
- Compliance Services
- Facility Rentals
- Facility Projects
- Football Strength & Conditioning
- Gamecock Gala
- All Access