University of South Carolina fans know more than their fair share of football. While there are pivotal plays and games that they gleefully recall year after year, there are many afternoons and evenings they will never discuss again after threading their way through the gates of Williams-Brice. Whether blissful (Jan. 1, 2013) or wretched (Nov. 20, 2004), many of those very dates are etched into the hearts of the men who leave everything on the field.
For running back Marcus Lattimore (2010-2012), one memorable date is Oct. 9, 2010, when the South Carolina Gamecocks faced a fearsome and highly ranked Alabama. “We were playing the number one team in the nation, and the Gamecocks had never beaten a number one team,” he says. “We went into that game under estimated. We played the perfect game. That game and the aftermath are such a great memory. It was like a riot downtown.”
Storied running back George Rogers (1977-1980) pinpoints his Gamecock career highlight onto Dec. 1, 1980. While he says he enjoyed the movie nights and off-the-field fellowship with his teammates, on a December day, George’s trajectory surpassed the Palmetto State and reached a national stage few players ever see.
“Playing college football was a special experience for me,” he says. “It gave me an opportunity to win the Heisman and go on to play professional football.” It was an accomplishment he credits not just to himself, but also to his teammates. “When I look at the trophy today, the first thing that comes to mind is that I could not have gotten it without my teammates,” he shares. “They made it possible.”
On Nov. 23, 2013, quarterback Todd Ellis (1986-1989) notes one of his long-standing records was bested by another Gamecock legend. “Until Connor Shaw (2011-2013), I was the all-time ‘winningest’ quarterback at USC. When he broke that record it was bittersweet. Thankfully, I don’t lay awake at night thinking about my records from 25 years ago,” he laughs.
Wide receiver and running back Ryan Brewer (1999-2002) recalls Jan. 1, 2001 with particular pride. The year after the Gamecocks finished 0-11, Ryan stepped in for a suspended Derek Watson and led the Gamecocks to a fairytale finish over the Ohio State Buckeyes at the 2001 Outback Bowl. “The whole scene that day was something,” he says. “I was recruited by Ohio State, but they never offered me a scholarship. So it was especially great to be able to tote the rock for my team that day.” Ohio State fans still lament how the Bucks somehow passed on Ohio’s Mr. Football 1998 and, later, Player of the Decade for the 1990s.
The date most people bring up when meeting former quarterback Jeff Grantz (1972-1975) is Nov. 22, 1975. That was the year Carolina defeated Clemson 56-20, setting a record for most points scored in a football game against the Tigers. “The last game I played was my favorite,” he recalls. “We scored every time we got the football. I had five passes for touchdowns and ran for one. That was a big finish.”
Only a handful of college players progress from the NCAA to the National Football League each year. Marcus Lattimore, a fourth-round pick by the San Francisco 49ers in 2013, was hampered by injuries and never played a game as a professional athlete. George Rogers, however, played in the NFL from 1981 to 1987 and even for a time led the league in rushing. After stints with the New Orleans Saints and the Washington Redskins, he capped his career with some major bling: a Super Bowl Championship ring.
Ryan Brewer, who played preseason for the Baltimore Ravens in 2003, went on to play football in Europe for one season before launching a successful business career back in the States. “Playing in Europe was awesome,” he says. “Everyone there had the same goal: to get back in the NFL. We got to play in Germany in a stadium where Hitler once stood and where the Olympics were played.”
Todd Ellis, a ninth-round draft pick by the Denver Broncos in 1990, later went on to play in the World League of American Football. “Back then, the draft was not the TV spectacle it is today,” he laughs. “Certainly not for a ninth-round pick. I had played 42 straight games at South Carolina and had gotten hurt during my senior year. I didn’t have expectations that I’d go very high.”
Jeff Grantz too was drafted by the Miami Dolphins and went to a three-day rookie camp in a very unfamiliar role: receiver. “I didn’t enjoy it at all so I came back. Jim Carlen, who was the head football coach at the time, offered me a graduate assistant coaching position. I coached for two years.”
Life after Football
When the play clock finally ran out, each player faced the same decision. What comes next? George, whose speed had bested Hershel Walker in the 1980 draft, knew 1987 was the right time to leave the locker room for good. “I knew I would miss playing football when I decided to retire,” he says. “At the end of the day, I felt like I couldn’t run anymore so instead of embarrassing myself and my team — and getting hit all the time — I decided it was a good time to retire.” Back home, George returned to USC and completed his degree in communications.
Todd also went back to school to attend the University of South Carolina School of Law and graduated in 1995. “I’d always wanted to go to law school. I didn’t know if I wanted to practice, but I knew a law degree would be marketable even in business. In the back of my mind I was really interested in being a trial lawyer which is what I am today,” he says.
In addition to his practice, the Law Office of Todd Ellis, he is the play-by-play announcer for Carolina football in the fall and hosts the football coach’s radio and TV show. “Instead of going to the games, tailgating and maybe doing stuff I shouldn’t do while I was in law school, I thought I’d just work on Saturdays instead,” he recalls with a laugh. It’s a role he’s enjoyed for the past 25 years.
Ryan, now a business owner of fencing company Ryan Brewer Enterprises, is still answering questions about his playing days — and the day he steamrolled over the Buckeyes — from customers and associates. He also credits his on-the-field education for helping him mature into a successful businessman. “It was tough to give up football, and I miss the game every day,” he says. “But it taught me tenacity and drive and those translate well into any career.”
Jeff echoes his gratitude for the foundation football built in his business life. “The leadership I learned as a quarterback and in the locker room absolutely helped my career,” he says. After coaching, Jeff initially sold sporting goods and then moved onto beer distribution for 33 years. Today he and Jill, his wife, are partners in real estate.
Ryan is currently serving as president of the USC Association of Lettermen, a group founded for varsity participants of any intercollegiate sport at USC. When he attends meetings he often finds himself looking around the room and reflecting on his experience. “You just don’t get it when you’re young and playing,” he says. “I get it now when I look around that room at that group of people. We all came from different sports, and we have our stories, some of which get bigger by the year. But each of us bled garnet and black on the fields back then. And we still do today.”
George, a first-generation college student, created the George Rogers Foundation of the Carolinas, Inc., a nonprofit organization that helps first-generation students with scholarships. Now celebrating its 25th anniversary, the foundation funds scholarships through donations, an annual auction, gala and celebrity golf tournament slated next year for the weekend of June 26 and 27.
Marcus is currently attending USC and is two semesters shy of his degree in public health. He’s considering a run for a master’s degree. In the wake of his evolution from the NCAA to the NFL, he founded the Marcus Lattimore DREAMS Foundation. His foundation focuses on youth and character development with an emphasis on Christian values, character, life-skills, education, recreation and health and wellness. As you’d expect of a man who gave his heart to his alma mater, Marcus has also taken on a role within the athletic department at USC.
As a special assistant to the president, Marcus often attends or speaks at campus-related or recruiting events. “I go where they need to me to go,” he says. “I get to share my story with recruits and their parents which is funny because I never pictured myself speaking in front of groups when I was younger. Sometimes I go speak in front of thousands of people. And man, I love doing it!”
Especially close to his heart, however, is the work of his foundation. “I started the foundation because of my knee injuries,” he shares. “When kids are hurt playing football or other sports, I know what they’re going though. I’ve been there. When you play football your whole life and it gets taken away, it’s tough. I had my goals set right out there in front of me. I was on a road, and I had things come my way that changed everything, but now I have new passions and other interests in life,” he says. “God laid out a new road in my heart.”
Original Article: http://columbiametro.com/Columbia-Metro/December-2015/Carolina-Legends/