Deshaun Fenwick was at a crossroads.
South Carolina’s talented running back had already proven he could play on the college level, having rushed for over 100 yards in a game at Williams-Brice Stadium. In one half. Four months later running backs coach Thomas Brown called him someone with, “a lot of ability.”
But Fenwick was stuck, at best, fourth on the Gamecock depth chart.
So he went to Will Muschamp and asked about transferring.
“You need to stick this out,” the South Carolina head coach told him. “You really do. Good things are going to happen. You’re a talented guy, and you just need to stick it out. You know, life’s not fair all the time and things don’t always go your way.”
“And he stuck it out,” Muschamp said late Saturday night. “When his number was called, he played well. He did a nice job.”
A nice job was 102 yards on 18 carries in a 24-7 South Carolina (4-5, 3-4 SEC) win over Vanderbilt (2-6, 1-4 SEC). It was the first game action Fenwick had seen since last season’s game against Akron 336 days ago. That night he had three yards, but two weeks before that had 112 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries against Chattanooga (all in the second half).
“I was ecstatic to get a chance to run the ball tonight,” Fenwick said. “I just made the most of my opportunities. I feel like I had a good week in practice and it obviously showed.
“… Going forward I’m just going to continue to work hard. When my number is called, it’s called. I’ll do what’s best for the team.”
Muschamp brought Fenwick to stand alongside him during the coach’s postgame locker room speech and spoke about the running back’s mindset.
“Things didn’t go very well for Deshaun,” the coach told his team.
Said Fenwick, who paused twice during the comment because he didn’t want to get choked up, “It was a really powerful moment. Just because of overcoming things. And it was a really powerful moment to be with my team. You know, they lifted me up through that.”
But he stuck it out, worked and earned his spot. And when he was given a chance, he thrived.
He had runs of 18, 11 and 10 yards and two for 14 yards on Saturday night and rushed for six first downs. That includes 11 yards on a 3rd-and-10 early in the fourth quarter on a drive that ended with a Parker White field goal that gave the Gamecocks a 17-7 lead.
“He’s a guy that’s been through some ups and downs and it looks like he’s finally finding his way and his role,” senior receiver Bryan Edwards said. “I’m extremely proud of him.”
Over the past year or so, Fenwick confided in fellow redshirt freshman Dakereon Joyner about the possibility of transferring.
“We kind of went through the same things,” Joyner said. “We kind of fed off each other. We motivated each other every single day. I kind of watched his ups and downs and I was right there with him. He’s a guy that works hard and he truly deserves it.”
Immediately after Saturday’s game, Fenwick went back and forth with a South Carolina field staffer about trying to keep a game ball. (He was unsuccessful, although he had a ball tucked under his left arm as he slapped high fives with fans after the game.)
He then chatted with Brown as the two walked over to the Carolina Band for the alma mater.
“He’s always been in my corner and always kept it real with me,” Fenwick said of Brown. “ … He told me, ‘If you keep working hard, good things will come. If you keep working hard like that, you’ll be a really good football player.’”
“You’ve always got to be ready when your number is called,” Muschamp said. “Hopefully he gets some more opportunities as we continue to move forward. A great example of a guy that actually handled adversity and fought it a little bit.”
Said Fenwick, “I did want to transfer, and he sat me down and he told me sometimes life is hard. It’s all about what you do in tough situations. We’ve got a really good team of guys who fight through adversity. That’s what I did. I stuck it out and got a great opportunity tonight.”