Returning to my Gamecock roots with Spurs & Feathers

Returning to my Gamecock roots with Spurs & Feathers

**By Jeff Owens**

As I dribbled around the dirt court in my backyard, launching jump shots at a crooked rim, I fantasized about playing for the South Carolina Gamecocks. I was Alex English, Mike Dunleavy or Brian Winters, playing for Frank McGuire’s nationally ranked teams.

On the baseball diamond — or tossing a ball against a brick wall — I played for Coach June Raines, trying to help Mookie Wilson and the Gamecocks get back to the College World Series.

On the gridiron, I was quarterback Jeff Grantz, scrambling away from defenders and slinging spirals down the field.

As a kid growing up in South Carolina, that’s what you did — unless, of course, you were cursed to be a Clemson fan.

Growing up in the Greenville-Spartanburg area in the 1970s, I followed every Gamecock team I could. When McGuire’s powerhouse teams played, I was in front of the television. I went to Gamecock basketball camp, where Dunleavy, the future NBA star, was my first coach. I went to Raines’ baseball camp, which was held in Myrtle Beach back then. In high school, I attended my first football games at Williams-Brice, watching George Rogers rumble to the 1980 Heisman Trophy.

During those years, I grew to love the Gamecocks above all other sports teams. I spent many hours at the home of my best friend, whose parents, William and Gail Wilson of Duncan, S.C., were South Carolina alums and among the biggest Gamecock fans in the state. It was there that I was first exposed to a magazine called Spurs & Feathers, which chronicled South Carolina’s biggest games and profiled its biggest stars. I consumed S&F like it was Sports Illustrated or The Sporting News.

Years later, my love affair with USC has come full circle as I join Spurs & Feathers as it’s new executive editor.

As a teen, my dream was to attend USC and major in journalism, with the hope of one day covering the athletic program. I realized that dream from 1983 to 1986. As a writer and editor for the student paper — The Gamecock — I covered the football, basketball and baseball teams. I was there during the Joe Morrison years, covering the thrilling 1984 Black Magic season, which was highlighted by a stunning victory over Florida State at Williams-Brice and a dramatic upset at Clemson. A year later, I followed the baseball team as Raines led the Gamecocks to another CWS appearance.

I also had the privilege during those years to work part-time for The State and the old Columbia Record, learning from legendary sports editor Doug Nye, editors Bertram Rantin and Bill Eichenberger and award-winning writers like Bob Gillespie and Jim McLaurin. They each taught me lessons I carried on down the road.

After graduating, I returned in 1990 to cover the Gamecocks for the Florence Morning News, following football coach Sparky Woods and colorful QB Steve Tanneyhill as USC began its foray into the SEC. I’ll never forget Woods rallying the troops after an 0-5 start in 1992 and finishing 5-6 after an upset at Clemson, a game where Tanneyhill infuriated Clemson fans by writing his name on the Tiger paw at Death Valley.

In 1993, I took off on another adventure, moving to North Carolina to cover NASCAR, the NFL and NBA. Though I’ve covered a variety of teams and sports over the past 23 years, I’ve always kept my eye on the Gamecocks. I followed their wild roller coaster ride through the SEC, and like all Gamecock fans, was thrilled when Steve Spurrier built the football program into a national power and heartbroken when he abruptly stepped aside. I was ecstatic when Ray Tanner delivered South Carolina’s first major national championships in the 2010 and 2011 College World Series. And I can’t wait to see which Gamecock teams make history next.

Now I’m returning to my roots, ready to cover every aspect of USC athletics and follow the Gamecocks as they chase glory in the SEC and on the national landscape.

It’s a great time to be a Gamecock fan and follower of USC athletics. Frank Martin and Dawn Staley have the basketball programs on historic runs, heading toward the NCAA tournament. Chad Holbrook should have his best baseball team yet, with a great shot at leading the Gamecocks back to Omaha. And Will Muschamp appears to have the rebuilding football program on the right track heading into his second spring practice.

I’m thrilled to be in position to follow it all for Spurs & Feathers and excited about continuing the legacy of the publication Gamecock fans have been reading for decades.

Jeff Owens can be reached at jowens@spursandfeathers.com or on Twitter at @jowens_SpursUp.