Final Farewell: Offense
All of the seniors are different, and each brings his own set of talents and abilities to the field. However, all of them have accomplished something great by completing their eligibility and will always be part of the Gamecock family.
Blake Mitchell's career may go down as one of the most up-and-down in South Carolina quarterback history. Mitchell originally signed in 2003 to play in Skip Holtz's spread offense. When then-coach Lou Holtz went another direction towards a system using more mobile quarterbacks, rumors swirled that Mitchell was considering transferring. The former four-star prospect stuck around, however, and was rewarded for doing so when offensive-guru Steve Spurrier took over.
Mitchell has taken more heat for his play than most could stand. He has been suspended multiple times, benched multiple times and ridiculed by fans, but the resilient quarterback has quietly compiled one of the best resumes in USC history. The lanky quarterback from LaGrange, GA has led USC to victories over Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Clemson during his career. With a win Saturday in his final home contest, Mitchell would be the first quarterback to lead South Carolina to two straight wins over the Tigers since Tommy Suggs beat them three straight times in '68, '69, and '70.
Mitchell has also put together quite the stat line. The 6-3, 211 pound signal-caller has completed 464 passes on 763 attempts for 5,708 yards and 35 touchdowns. He has completed 60.8 percent of his passes and compiled a 13-9 record as starting quarterback. Those numbers are good for fifth in school history in attempts, fourth all-time in completions and touchdowns, third in passing yards, and tops in career completion percentage with possibly two more games to add to those totals.
Andy Boyd is another senior Gamecock who has taken a long path to Saturday night. The sixth year senior has battled an assortment of injuries during his time at USC. A Concord, NC-native, the 6-4, 267 pound tight end signed with the Gamecocks as part of Holtz's 2002 signing class. Boyd played as a backup during his true freshman year, but was forced to take a medical redshirt during the 2003 season after tearing his ACL during preseason practice. The blocking-specialist played for most of the 2004 season, but was once again bitten by the injury bug in 2005 when he hyperextended his knee against Georgia. Boyd also missed four games during the Gamecocks '06 campaign and missed all of the following spring practice after undergoing shoulder surgery. This year the veteran tight end has enjoyed the most productive and healthy season of his Gamecock career, catching eight passes for 94 yards while playing significant snaps as a tenacious blocker. Boyd will get his much-deserved thanks from the crowd Saturday night as few would have willingly gone through the hours of physical rehabilitation and pain he had to undergo multiple times just to play for the Gamecocks.
Fullback Lanard Stafford originally joined the football team as a walk-on lineman in 2004. After Spurrier's coaching staff took over, Stafford converted to fullback the spring before the 2005 season. The bright student-athlete came into his own during the 2006 campaign, starting eight games and was instrumental in the offense's strong performance down the stretch. An excelleny blocker and student with one of the highest GPA's on the team, Stafford also caught three passes out of the backfield during the final two games of the season. The 5-9, 247 pound Hemingway, SC-native has enjoyed a productive senior season this fall as starting fullback with four catches for 31 yards.
Offensive lineman Web Brown has been the anchor of USC's offensive line this season, in his first full year as USC's starting center. Considered by many to be a question mark entering the season, the veteran Brown has been the model for consistency on the interior of an offensive line that desperately needed that. While most of Brown's past playing experience was at guard, the savvy veteran took over for the departed Chris White at center and has graded out well during his final season. THe Boonville, NC-native has also shown excellent leadership qualities as a senior starter. Brown, who is actively involved in multiple community service projects, is also the SEC representative to the NCAA Division I National Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.
Another offensive lineman exhausting his eligibility is Sumter-native James Thompson. The former U.S. Army All-American selection provided depth at guard for most of his career. The 6-3, 320 pound veteran is one of the strongest players on the team and has started six games in his career.
Tight end Robert Pavlovic turned down a chance to play in the Canadian Football League in order to experience his final season at USC. The 6-4, 255 pound Mississiauga, Ontario, Canada-native owns five career starts and has caught six passes including a touchdown in the Liberty Bowl last season. Though the pass-blocking specialist has not played much this year, he was instrumental in the team's late 2006 success.
Walk-on kicker Thomas Hooper will also dress out for his final home game in the garnet and black. The Montgomery, AL-native has been a reserve for much of his career, but has connected on all three of his career PAT attempts.
Last but certainly not least, running back Cory Boyd will play his final game in Columbia on Saturday night. The hard-nosed playmaker has been a fan favorite since he took the field for the first time as a freshman in 2003. The Orange, NJ-native is the definition of a Gamecock and has grown up both on and off the field in front of the very eyes of the Gamecock Nation. From an underpriviledged background and bad neighborhood, Boyd often found himself around trouble in his early years at South Carolina. Boyd was eventually suspended for the entire 2005 season due to a violation of team rules, and he strongly considered moving back home and transferring to Rutgers. Boyd decided quitting was not the answer as the determined running back chose to sit out the year, take a redshirt, and return in the garnet and black.
Boyd would return to be the team's leading rusher over the next two seasons with 823 yards in '06 and 829 so far this season. In his career, Boyd has carried the rock 445 times for 2,193 yards (11th in school history) and an average of 4.93 yards a carry. The sure-handed running back has also caught 116 passes for 1,264 yards in order to become just the second player in school history to rush for and receive for 1,000 yards as well as the third to rush for 1,000 yards and catch 100 passes in his career. Boyd also has 28 career touchdowns.
Bill Parcells once said, "Some players are more concerned with looking like they care than actually caring." Parcells would have never said that about Boyd. When Boyd steps on a football field he expects to win, and he has shown he is willing to do anything in his power to make that happen. With his strong senior season, Boyd has probably played his way into the NFL, but the 6-1, 214 pound superstar will always be a fighting Gamecock as he takes the heart and determination he showed week in and week out as a Gamecock to the next level.
Congratulations, senior Gamecocks.
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