At some point, every student-athlete is faced with the decision between continuing their career as a college athlete or moving on to a new chapter in their life. When the NCAA decided to grant an extra year of eligibility because of COVID-19, many student-athletes were able to extend their collegiate careers.
South Carolina women's basketball guard Lele Grissett, football kicker Parker White and women's soccer midfielder Lauren Chang are program veterans who made the decision to compete for their fifth season.
For Grissett, the decision to return to the women’s basketball team came after an injury during her senior season.
“The road to recovery was pretty hard, honestly. It was more like a mindset I had a battle with,” Grissett said in a post-game press conference following her return against Mississippi State on Dec. 12, 2021. “When I got in and the crowd went crazy, it was just love because they always show love no matter what.”
Coaches play a major part in an athlete’s decision about returning to play, they said.
Coach Staley said she hoped Grissett experienced a more enjoyable end to her fifth and final season with the Gamecocks.
"You can't get to where you are as a program without having leaders who have been in your program. This is her fifth-year, and she knows the good, the bad and the ugly of it," Staley said.
Another student-athlete who has played in Columbia for five seasons is White, who came back to play under new football head coach Shane Beamer for his extra redshirt year of eligibility in 2021.
White made a impact on the South Carolina football team during the 2021-2022 season, missing only one field-goal kick throughout his entire fifth season and becoming the school's all time leading scorer with 368 points.
"There's no better way this could have ended, I mean there's no way you can make this up," said White after breaking the record for points scored by a kicker at the Duke's Mayo Bowl on Dec. 30, 2021.
White experienced one of the biggest moments of the season against East Carolina, where he kicked the game-winning field goal as time expired, a performance that also earned him the honor of SEC Co-Special Team's Player of the Week.
White was a starter for all five years, setting the school record for games played with 60, and finished his college career making 72 out of 99 field goals attempted, which is also tied for first in program history.
Another athlete that chose to come back for a fifth year is women's soccer midfielder Chang, who announced her return in a Twitter post on May 5, 2021 along with three other seniors: "We're Back."
"A positive to this past year we have had is that we will now have four wonderful leaders and teammates returning for a fifth year," head women's soccer coach Shelley Smith said in a press release on the same day. "We are all excited to have a little more time with them in the program as they continue to represent us and this university so well on and off the field as student-athletes.
Chang was the first Gamecock to make 105 appearences during her collegiate career with 17 goals and 24 assists with a total of 58 points scored. She was also voted to the All SEC Second Team three times during her time at Carolina.
She had a career high 10 assists during her fifth and final season with the team, including assists in games against North Carolina and Hofstra during the teams NCAA tournament run in 2021.
Each athlete has a unique journey that has led them to compete as a Gamecock during their fifth and final seasons of collegiate eligibility.
"It was a great lesson for our guys, that you know what, it doesn't always just happen as a freshman or a sophmore, like you've got to work and there's other great players with you," Beamer said about the super seniors' impact on the football team.