Saturday’s Gamecock football season opener is quickly approaching. For many players and coaches, it is simply the first of 12 games the team will play this season. But for a few on the South Carolina and Georgia State sidelines, Saturday is not just a day of football, but a day of reunions.
Gamecock fifth-year edge rusher Jordan Strachan started his career at Georgia State, playing four years with the Panthers under head coach Shawn Elliot.
For the Panthers, Elliot, a former Gamecock assistant, and redshirt senior running back Jamyest Willams will return to Willams-Brice stadium for the first time since they left the program.
“It’s kind of crazy playing against my former team,” Strachan said. “A lot of guys over there I love, they love me, so it’s real weird going out to play them on Saturday."
Strachan walked onto the Georgia State football team in 2017. After taking a redshirt year and changing his position from safety to linebacker, he made his debut in the team’s 2018 season opener. Strachan played every game that season, starting four of them and recording 36 tackles.
His redshirt-sophomore season ended the day it began when he suffered a season-ending knee injury in the season opener against Tennessee. The next season, Strachan fully recovered from his injury and he had the best season of his career. He was selected third-team All-Sun Belt after leading all FBS players in sacks with 10.5.
He entered the transfer portal that offseason and enrolled at South Carolina in January of 2021. In his first season wearing garnet and black, Strachan recorded 22 tackles, six tackles for loss, three sacks and two pass breakups.
Even though they don’t share a locker room anymore, Strachan said he and his former teammates still regularly keep in touch.
“Just how I got teammates here, they my brothers, I got a lot of brothers over there too,” Strachan said.
Strachan’s inside knowledge of the Georgia State program will be helpful when the two teams meet up. For the most part, the Gamecocks relied on film to study the Panthers' gameplan, but Strachan said he has offered some advice to the offense.
“I may have helped the offensive guys a little bit, knowing the defensive guys I played with," Strachan said. “Gave them some hints here and there, guys tendencies, but for the most part, I’ve been quiet, you know, just watching film.”
Elliot is returning to Columbia to coach for the first time since taking the job at Georgia State in 2017. Elliot, a native of Camden, was the offensive line coach for the Gamecocks for seven seasons and served as interim coach in 2015 after former head coach Steve Spurrier resigned.
“It’s going to be thrilling, all honesty, it’s going to be awesome,” Elliot said. “A lot of games that I’ve watched there, a lot of games I’ve won there, won a state championship there, and now we’re taking our team.”
In the five seasons Elliot has led the Panthers, the team has appeared in four bowl games. The Panthers won the last two bowl games, beating Ball State 51-20 in last year's Camellia Bowl.
Gamecock’s head coach Shane Beamer praised Elliot during his weekly media conference. He credited the Panthers' recent success to Elliot's coaching.
“How Georgia State plays, yeah absolutely, to me team’s take on the personality of their head coach,” Beamer said. “You certainly see that with him.”
Elliot and Beamer crossed paths for one historic season at South Carolina. Both coaches were on Spurrier’s 2010 staff that led the team to its only SEC East division title.
“A lot of great memories from that season as well, and Shawn is a heck of a football coach, knew that then, and was a good friend,” Beamer said. “He’s done a great job at Georgia State, and relationship is still good."
On the defensive side of the ball, Willams spent his time at South Carolina as a defensive back. He joined the program in 2017 and played with the Gamecocks for three seasons.
Willams' best season in Columbia came during his freshman year, where he recorded 38 tackles and two interceptions. He transferred to Georgia State in 2020 and switched to the running back position.
“He’s a great athlete like we have to be on our toes trying to get a guy down like that, so we’re going to be ready, and Jam, he’s bringing a lot to the table, but so do we,” Strachan said.