In 1992, the SEC added both the South Carolina Gamecocks and Arkansas Razorbacks to the conference, sparking a change in college football. Since then, expansions have been commonplace, but that was the move that started it all. In honor of the Gamecocks 25 years as a member of the SEC, we look back at the 25 best players during their tenure. This list mainly takes into account player’s career while at South Carolina, pro accomplishments are not heavily factored in.
As with any listing of great players, there will be debate about the order and who gets left off. Hopefully this list with elicit debate, but also take fans on a trip down memory lane as well.
Celebrating 25 Seasons in the SEC
- Elliot Fry – Place Kicker (2013-16)
The diminutive kicker from Carrolton, TX left South Carolina as the school’s all-time leading scorer. He totaled 359 career points. Fry was 66-88 (75%) on field goals throughout his four years in Columbia. His most memorable kick may be his game winner in double overtime at Missouri in the Gamecocks 17-point comeback.
- Cory Boyd – Running Back (2003-07)
Always known as a hard-nosed runner, Boyd was fan favorite during his Gamecock career because of his effort and toughness. He played for both Lou Holtz and Steve Spurrier while in Columbia, one of only a few players to learn under two Hall of Fame coaches while in college. The New Jersey native finished with 2,267 yards rushing and added another 1,303 yards receiving. He also scored 28 total touchdowns in four seasons. Boyd is still the career leader for catches and receiving yards by a South Carolina running back.
- Shaq Wilson – Linebacker (2008-12)
Wilson was never the biggest or fastest player, but his instincts and toughness allowed him to shine while at South Carolina. He finished his tenure in garnet and black with 246 tackles, four sacks, and four interceptions. However, his impact went beyond numbers, as he was the leader on some of the best defenses in Gamecock history.
- Phil Petty – Quarterback (1998-2001)
After playing sparingly his first two seasons, the Boiling Springs, SC native took over as the starter full time his junior year. He was never the flashiest player, nor did he have the gaudy stats, but he led his team to victories. As a quarterback, that is usually what matters most. His 5,652 yards and 28 passing touchdowns both rank in the top ten in school history.
- A.J. Cann – Left Guard (2010-14)
One of the best offensive lineman ever at South Carolina, he is second in school history with 51 career starts. After redshirting, the Bamberg native was a four year starter during the most successful time in program history. Cann was named 2nd team All-American and 1st team All-SEC during his senior season, before being drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Stars in Their Time
- Antonio Allen – Safety (2008-11)
Allen was an unsung hero on the defense mentioned above. He was never the big name or focus of those units, but he always found a way to come up with big plays. Whether it was forcing and recovering fumbles, or blitzing from the secondary to pressure the quarterback, Allen made an impact. He totaled 198 tackles and snagged four career interceptions. He also scored two touchdowns from the defensive side of the ball.
- Brandon Bennett – Running Back (1991-94)
Bennett played for South Carolina in their last season as an Independent, and for the first three years in the SEC. He is famous in Gamecock lore for his leaping touchdown against Georgia, in 1993, as the time ran out in Athens. He remains second in school history in rushing yards with 3,055 and is fourth in rushing touchdowns with 27.
- Stephon Gilmore – Defensive back (2009-11)
A defensive back from Rock Hill, SC, he was one of the recruits who changed the course of the program. A starter in the secondary from his first day on campus, he also found ways to produce on special teams and on offense. His 39-yard pass against Clemson as a freshman helped spark his team to the first of five straight wins over their instate rival. He finished his career in Columbia with 181 tackles, seven sacks, and eight interceptions.
- Duce Staley – Running back (1995-96)
The native of West Columbia starred for two season at South Carolina after transferring from junior college. Duce accounted for 972 yards and 10 touchdowns in his first year. His 1,116 yards as a senior ranks sixth all time for a single season in school history. He finished with 1,852 rushing yards and 19 total touchdowns in Columbia. He played ten years in the NFL for the Eagles and Steelers.
- Pharoh Cooper – Wide Receiver (2013-15)
The Havelock, NC native came to South Carolina to follow in the line of great defensive backs that have played there. He left as one of the most productive and explosive offensive weapons to ever wear the garnet and black. His 233 yards receiving against Tennessee is the single game record. His 138 catches, 2,163 yards and 22 touchdowns are all top ten in school history. Cooper also added 513 and four scores rushing the ball. He even completed nine career passes, four of those ending in touchdowns.
- Skai Moore – Linebacker (2013-17)
The only current player on this list. Skai Moore will return as a fifth year senior after missing last year due to injury. Moore is the only Gamecock defender to lead the team in tackles three seasons in a row. He has 11 career interceptions heading into 2017, needing only three more to tie the school record. The Cooper City, Fl native has a penchant for turnovers, with three forced fumbles and recoveries during his time.
- D.J. Swearinger – Safety (2009-12)
The hard-hitting safety brought attitude with him to the South Carolina defense. His intensity and swagger are legendary in Columbia. His most notable play was his hit on Clemson running back Andre Ellington in which he hit him so hard he did a flip in the air. He finished with 244 career tackles, and two of his six interceptions he returned for scores. He will always be most remembered for the aggressive style and enthusiasm with which he played.
- Melvin Ingram – Defensive End (2007-11)
The versatile Ingram, from Hamlet, NC, played both linebacker and defensive end while in Columbia. It was his move to defensive line that saw him blossom into a star. He ended his career fifth in school history in sacks with 21.5. His ten sacks in 2011 is the second highest single season total.In the 2011 contest at Georgia, Ingram scored two touchdowns in a wild 45-42 victory. He changed the game’s momentum with a 68-yard run on a fake punt, then sealed the game with a touchdown on a fumble recovery in the last few minutes.
- Stephen Garcia – Quarterback (2008-11)
Garcia is a bit of an enigma for Gamecock fans. His talent was unquestioned, but off the field issues derailed his career. Issues aside, he left Columbia in the top four in career and single season passing yards and touchdowns. His performance in an upset of number one Alabama is legendary. He was also the first South Carolina quarterback to defeat Clemson, Georgia, Florida, and Tennessee in his career. To go along with 75,97 yards and 47 touchdowns through the air, he added another 777 yards and 15 scores on the ground.
- Travelle Wharton – Offensive Tackle (2000-2003)
Wharton is arguably the best offensive lineman to play at South Carolina. He started 45 of the 47 games he played in. A team captain and All-SEC selection as a senior, he anchored a line that allowed only ten sacks all season. He didn’t allow a sack after the second game of his freshman season. Wharton played for nearly a decade in the NFL, and even had a brief stint as an offensive line coach in Columbia in 2015.
Topping the List
- John Abraham – Defensive End (1996-99)
Easily one of the most talented players in school history. If he had been fortunate enough to play on better teams, his name could be much higher up this list. He led the Gamecocks in sacks each of his four seasons. He is fourth all time in sacks with 23.5 for his career. A first round pick in the NFL, he played 15 years as a pro and amassed 133.5 sacks.
- Kenny McKinley – Wide Receiver (2005-08)
McKinley came to South Carolina as a former high school quarterback, but left as one of the most accomplished pass catchers in school history. His 207 receptions is still the career record, and his 2,781 yards and 19 touchdowns are second and third, respectively. A quick shifty receiver, McKinley was known for his ability to get open and fearlessness over the middle of the field. His 14 catches versus Tennessee in 2007 is still tied for most in a single game at the school.
- Steve Taneyhill – Quarterback (1992-95)
The man who brought swagger to South Carolina football before swagger was even a thing. Steve Taneyhill is remembered most for two things, the long hair flowing out his helmet and his “homerun” swing on the tiger paw during a victory over Clemson. He is second in school history with 8,782 passing yards, and first with his 62 passing touchdowns. Taneyhill led the Gamecocks to their first ever bowl victory in the 1995 Carquest Bowl. He also holds the top two single game passing performances with 473 yards versus Mississippi State and 451 yards against East Carolina.
- Sheldon Brown – Cornerback (1998-2001)
Brown is possibly the best defensive back to play in Columbia. Considering how many NFL secondaries have had former Gamecocks in them, that’s a bold statement. Brown was a two time All-SEC first teamer. Brown was a quintessential lock down corner, but was also able to lay out opponents with big hits. He finished his time in garnet and black with ten career interceptions. A three year starter, he helped lead the Gamecocks to back to back Outback Bowl victories over Ohio State.
- Sidney Rice – Wide Receiver (2004-06)
After redshirting as a freshman, Rice exploded in his first year on the field. He led the SEC with 13 touchdowns, still a single season record, and had a then record 1,143 yards. His leaping catches over defenders sometimes defied description. He filled up stat sheets and highlight reels like few other in Gamecock history. He left for the NFL after only two years of playing, but is still all over the record book. Rice’s 23 receiving touchdowns is still a school record. He is the only South Carolina receiver with multiple 1,000 yard seasons.
- Eric Norwood – Linebacker/Defensive end (2006-09)
Eric Norwood was a disruptive force, the likes of which has rarely been seen at South Carolina. He was relentless in his pursuit of the quarterback. He is one of only a few players to be named All-SEC at two different positions. Norwood is the school’s all-time leader in sacks and tackles for loss. He also scored three touchdowns on fumble and interception returns to add to his 29 career sacks. After being named All-SEC as a defensive end as a sophomore, he moved to linebacker and was all-conference each of the next two years at his new position. His 55 tackles for loss are the most in the SEC since 2005.
- Jadeveon Clowney – Defensive End (2011-13)
Clowney made history when he committed to South Carolina. He was the first number one rated national recruit to come to Columbia. He did not disappoint. His 13 sacks as a sophomore All-American remain a single season school record. Fans may remember a big hit he had in the Outback bowl win over Michigan that season. He also set the single game sack record with 4.5 sacks in a beat down of rival Clemson. His production dwindled his junior year as he constantly faced double and triple teams. His impact was still felt as teams organized their game plans around him.
- Marcus Lattimore – Running Back (2010-12)
If not for two season-ending knee injuries, this running back from Byrnes, SC would easily top this list. His one fully healthy season was one for the ages. Lattimore totaled 1,609 yards rushing and receiving, and scored 19 touchdowns. His 212 yard performance in the Swamp against Florida clinched South Carolina’s only SEC East title. His vision, balance, and ability to find tough yards were as good as there has been in garnet and black. Despite his injuries, Lattimore left as the Gamecocks all-time leader in rushing touchdowns with 38.
- Alshon Jeffery – Wide Receiver (2009-11)
He’s not pumping gas, that’s for sure. Alshon Jeffery was one of the most dominant offensive weapons in SEC history. His size and strength made him a nightmare for opposing defenses to handle. He left school atop the career receiving yardage list, and second in catches, which includes his incredible one-handed catches. His 3,042 career yards is fourth in SEC history. He is also tied with Rice with 23 career touchdowns. As a sophomore, he had program records for catches with 88, and yards, 1,517.
- Connor Shaw – Quarterback (2010-2013)
Quarterback is often looked at as the most important position in football. So it is no surprise that the Gamecocks all-time winningest signal caller tops this list. Shaw was the steady hand guiding South Carolina to its best stretch in program history. He ended his career undefeated at Williams-Brice stadium, going a perfect 18-0. He holds the school record for most career touchdowns, with a combined 73 passing and rushing. His ability to improvise during a play, while still making sound decision,s is a rare thing to find. He cemented his legend when he came off the bench with the team down 17-0 in the fourth quarter at then #5 Missouri. He led a comeback for the ages, with the Gamecocks finally winning 27-24 in double overtime.