N.C. natives ready for crack at Tar Heels
For Andy Boyd it took two knee surgeries and two lost seasons to allow him to fulfill a dream Saturday in Chapel Hill. For Web Brown, the game brings back a dream with a different ending.
Both USC seniors and North Carolina natives will start and play extensively against UNC Saturday in Chapel Hill, the first meeting of these border rivals since 1991. Fifteen USC football players, including eight who see extensive playing time, will suit up against the Tar Heels, but Boyd and Brown could easily have played in Keenan Stadium for the home team. "Yeah, that was my dream, to play up there," remembers tight end Boyd, who was a 2001 Shrine Bowl performer. The sixth year senior might not have been on the field Saturday if he went to UNC out of Concord High School.
Twice severe knee injuries ended his football seasons: a torn ACL prior to the 2003 season that caused him to miss the whole season, and a hyper-extended knee in the second game of 2005 (Georgia) that put him out of action and led to another season ending ACL surgery. Boyd was granted a medical hardship and a sixth year to play this season at USC.
The Concord, N.C. native grew up a UNC fan. "Initially I was like, ‘I would love to play for them,'" he recounted this week. Boyd was recruited by Coach John Bunting's staff and told that offers were usually given out after summer camp at UNC – and it seemed like a huge hint that Boyd would get an offer. The High School Football Championship games are played there and every high school player thinks about playing at Keenan Stadium. The summer passed without an offer. "That is where I wanted to go, and had intentions of going... in the recruiting process things happened, and things were promised and really never came through."
Boyd started looking elsewhere to play college football, including South Carolina. "That wasn't even a team on my mind," recalled Boyd. By the time North Carolina offered a scholarship, he had already made up his mind to play for Carolina – South Carolina.
The trip to Chapel Hill will be special for the oldest player on the Gamecocks, with a degree in history and now working on a psychology degree. "It's just a matter of a team I grew up watching. It's a great opportunity to go up there and play at Keenan Stadium. It's something I always wanted to do."
Senior center Brown was offered a scholarship on a Monday, it was revoked that Thursday by Coach Bunting, and he went on a visit to USC the next day. The former Starmount High School star committed to the Gamecocks right after he returned to his North Carolina home. Brown never got a reason for the mix up but understands recruiting is sometimes a numbers situation.
"It's not the biggest deal about me personally." He even says recruiting is "a game, trying to get the best talent you can." "Sometimes I think the coaches; they know sometimes they have to let a player go even though they still want that guy. It hurts them too."
And Brown realizes it's not a one way street. "I remember I had to call some coaches and let them down."
"I remember the dream I had, and then letting go of that dream and embracing a new one. It's nice to be able to go back, and I guess to kind of see what could have been - and also appreciate what is." Brown starts as a senior on a 5-1 Gamecock squad leading the SEC-East, coming off back to back bowl seasons and is ranked seventh in the nation in the AP poll this week. North Carolina is improving but rebuilding and needs four wins in its next six games just to be bowl eligible.
"Now Carolina for me is South Carolina, no matter where I am," says Brown, who expects high school friends and coaches from Booneville, N.C. to make the trip to Chapel Hill Saturday.
Boyd acknowledges Saturday's game is special but also emphasizes the coming opportunities for his team. This week's opportunities are to defend a top ten ranking, to win a Border Battle, and to build on the win over 8th ranked Kentucky before a regional television audience. He says now, all games are important. "I am sure every college player dreams of playing in big games that determine seasons," pointing out that Saturday's contest with the 2-4 Tar Heels is one of them. "They're a talented team."
The 6-4, 267 pound Boyd has started all six games this season with five catches for 55 yards and one touchdown. Freshman Weslye Saunders of Durham, N.C. also plays a lot at tight end and has seven catches for 108 yards, including the 48 yard reception and fumble at the Kentucky two yard line last Thursday. Boyd is known as an effective blocker and has improved is pass catching skills each season.
Playing in Chapel Hill Saturday will be special. "It feels good to go back home and play in your home state."
"It's a beautiful stadium, beautiful campus. I have many friends from high school that have gone up there. It's something I've looked forward to. I just hope it's going to be a good day." Does this fulfill a dream for Boyd? This game, like all the rest on the schedule his final season, is "just another opportunity" to the man who believes, like Coach Spurrier, that UNC and USC should meet yearly. "It ought to be fun, and I'm really looking forward to it," said Boyd of his one and only shot at North Carolina.
Coach Spurrier did not win any friends in Chapel Hill after his last game there; a 41-0 whipping of the Tar Heels by his Duke Blue Devils to wrap up the 1989 ACC title. Spurrier brought his team out on the field after the game for a team photo. Brown is not looking for anything like that, such as a photo of the sixteen North Carolina high school players now wearing the Garnet & Black. After the normal team prayer, he expects the normal walk to the locker room.
"I am not one to throw things in people's faces," says the 6-4, 291 pound Brown, who has started every game this season and is considered the leader of the offensive line. If the post game prayer follows a win at Keenan Stadium in his only college game versus the team he once dreamed of playing for, it will be one of the most satisfying walks off a football field for Brown in his college career. The same can be said for Boyd and for at least 14 other Gamecocks.
"I wanna win. I would love for us to win that game," stresses Brown. "(But) it's not just to throw it in their face or anything."
That sounds like a senior on a top ten team looking for a satisfying victory, but mostly for another win to keep a dream season alive that would be remembered by football fans in both Carolinas.
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