Final Farewell: Defense

On Saturday night, eleven Gamecock defensive seniors will play their last contest in Williams-Brice Stadium, as South Carolina faces off with their bitter in-state rival, the Clemson Tigers. These young men can say that they did something not many have done, playing big time college football in the Southeastern Conference. Read inside for's tribute to USC's defensive seniors.

Casper Brinkley will start his final home game at defensive end for the Gamecocks. The 6-2, 257 pound athlete transferred from Georgia Military Academy in 2006 after choosing to play for the Gamecocks, along with his twin brother Jasper, over offers from Arizona State, Baylor, and Kansas State. Despite being a natural linebacker, the versatile Brinkley has played most of his Gamecock career at defensive end due to team need and has played well in doing so. Brinkley started all 13 games for the Gamecocks in 2006 and recorded 44 tackles along with seven sacks. After starting the 2007 season at linebacker, Brinkley was forced to move back to defensive end prior to the LSU game and has 52 tackles to go along with three sacks on the season. Casper will depart from his brother's side after this season, as Jasper will look to return to his middle linebacker spot next fall after suffering a season-ending knee injury in the LSU game.

Another player who joined the Gamecock family via transfer from Georgia Military Academy is 6-2, 294 pound defensive tackle Joel Reaves. Reaves contributed immediately in the garnet and black, playing in all 13 games last season while making 21 tackles and 1.5 sacks. Though he has faced tougher competition for playing time this season, the veteran tackle has logged significant snaps off the bench and provided solid depth, adding eight tackles and a sack in his senior season. Reaves graduated from Marion High School.

Ryan Brown took a different path to playing time on the South Carolina defense and is one of the few Lou Holtz holdovers still on the South Carolina roster. The 6-0, 256 pound defensive end was recruited as a linebacker, but has played some fullback and defensive end for most of the Spurrier era. Brown was credited with 18 tackles including a forced fumble at Kentucky last season, while adding five tackles and three tackles-for-loss this season. Brown joined the Gamecocks from Berkeley High school in Moncks Corner, SC.

Brandon Isaac had as much potential as any player South Carolina signed in the 2005 class, but has been plagued by injuries for much of his three seasons at USC. Isaac chose to transfer to South Carolina from Georgia Military over the University of Georgia and logged snaps at cornerback and safety while battling a shoulder injury for much of his first year. He contributed 34 tackles as well as three pass break-ups in 2005. After sitting out the 2006 season due to shoulder surgery, Isaac looked poised to have a breakout season in the Gamecock secondary and play his way into the NFL draft. Isaac teamed with sophomores Emanuel Cook and Darian Stewart to form a playmaking trio of safeties early, but he suffered a separated shoulder against S.C. State and hasn't returned to form since. Playing mostly as a coverage specialist in the second half of the season, Isaac has recorded 20 tackles and an interception on the season.

Chris Hampton joined the Gamecocks as an under-the-radar safety prospect from Melrose High in Memphis, TN in Lou Holtz's 2004 recruiting class. Hampton has been the model student-athlete during his time in the garnet and black, while providing solid depth from his safety spot. Hampton has been a consistent contributor since his sophomore year when he had 28 tackles including a sack. Hampton added 36 tackles and two interceptions during his junior campaign and has 38 tackles and a pick so far this year. The savvy junior has managed to remain a big part of the South Carolina defense despite more athletic players joining and leaving the Gamecock secondary around him during his time there.

Ty Erving is also a safety playing in his last game in the USC secondary. Erving has experienced an up and down career while battling injuries for much of his time in Columbia. The 5-10, 195 pound Batesburg-Leesville-native contributed 8 tackles in 2005 before missing half of 2006 due to a knee injury. Erving returned to action this year and has played in 11 games, logging four tackles in limited action.

Mike West must have thought he was in a battle with Syvelle Newton to see who could play the most positions in their time at Carolina. The Sunshine state-native found himself lined up all over the field during the course of his career. West joined the South Carolina defense in 2005 as a junior college transfer from Butler County Community College. Blessed with great speed, West began his career at outside linebacker and immediately made an impact with 47 tackles and three sacks. West then moved from linebacker to wide receiver and caught six passes for 66 yards and two touchdowns in the 2006 season. West was then moved back to the defensive side of the ball prior to the 2007 campaign, where he has 10 tackles in limited action this season. The speedster also saw time as a kick returner during his junior season.

Cody Wells is another Florida-native signed by Lou Holtz, and he's playing in his last game at Williams-Brice Stadium. The 5-10, 217 pound outside linebacker has been a solid contributor on the South Carolina defense and special teams for much of his time at USC. The fearless head-hunter has never been the biggest or fastest player on the field, but he's played with intensity and determination every time he stepped on the field. Despite Wells' many defensive and special teams tackles, he may be remembered most for two that were extra special. The first of which came during his junior season when Wells saved the day to seal a 28-21 victory over Wofford by picking off a batted option pitch. The second came in the fourth quarter of a big win over Kentucky during Wells' senior year when in one single play Wells showed what type of player he is and summed up what being a Fighting Gamecock is all about as he flew down the field helmet-less to drag Keenan Burton to the ground on kickoff return coverage.

Three walk-on defenders will also make their final home appearance as Gamecocks on Saturday night. Though they don't always get the glory or recognition the scholarship players do, hard-working walk-ons are as much a part of a winning program as the scholarship players are. Marcus Davis is a 28 year old linebacker from Eau Claire in Columbia, SC who has put in three years on the USC scout team as one of the oldest players in college football. Ranzino Valentine is a Greenville, SC-native who walked on in 2005. The 5-8 cornerback played for Charleston Southern in ‘03 and '04 and is one of the few USC walk-ons to earn Outstanding Walk-on recognition from the coaching staff. Linebacker/safety Greg Wright was rewarded a scholarship due to his special teams contributions during the 2005 and 2006 seasons. The Cross, SC-native has seven tackles during his South Carolina career while seeing action in 27 contests and is the perfect example of how a walk-on can make a solid contribution on the field.

It is hard to imagine the type of dedication it takes to play major college football while also going to school full time. These eleven Gamecocks have represented the University of South Carolina with dignity and class and deserve every clap they receive in appreciation for their efforts when their names are called over the Williams-Brice PA system Saturday night before they square off with Clemson for the last time.

Congratulations, Gamecock seniors.

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