The Daily Gamecock

Column: Seniors should savor the 2023 football season

<p>FILE — The University of South Carolina's student section spins rally towels as "Sandstorm" plays over the loudspeakers on Oct. 29, 2022. The Gamecocks lost to the University of Missouri Tigers 23-10.</p>
FILE — The University of South Carolina's student section spins rally towels as "Sandstorm" plays over the loudspeakers on Oct. 29, 2022. The Gamecocks lost to the University of Missouri Tigers 23-10.

USC’s new senior class has a lot of understandable things to complain about — a freshman year dampened by the COVID-19 pandemic, three university presidents in our first three years and a 2-8 first football season that prompted a coaching change in 2020. 

As a member of the aforementioned senior class, it’s not all bad for me. I actually prefer watching games on television — which is another column for another day — and I can now revel in what the football program has become. Despite losing in the Gator Bowl last year, the Gamecocks finished the season 8-5 and ranked No. 23 in the country. 

Now South Carolina is poised for a strong 2023, with senior leading receiver Antwane "Juice" Wells Jr. once again partnering with redshirt senior quarterback Spencer Rattler. The two connected on 20 passes for 309 yards and two touchdowns over the team's last two regular season games of 2022. The Gamecocks were picked to finish third in the SEC,  and seven members of the team were named to the Preseason Coaches All-SEC Teams. 

As a lifelong college football fan, this is a team that has meant so much to me growing up in South Carolina. In the great years of the early 2010s, the Gamecocks were a source of pride, and the rough patches that have followed have at least taught me perseverance.

Now that the team is restocked and the outlook is bright, it's time to enjoy what has been built right before our eyes before the chance is gone. While I hope this year won’t be the final time cheering on the Gamecocks for any of my fellow seniors, it marks the end of our student section — or free ticket — era.

"It's been incredible. There is nothing like being in the student section at USC," Student Body President Emmie Thompson said. "I've been a Gamecock my whole life, so I've been to games prior to being a student here, and it is just not the same." 


In 2020, students were limited to just one student ticket for the entire football season to account for COVID-19 capacity limits. But there honestly wasn’t much to see, as the Gamecocks went 1-4 at home en route to a 2-8 season. The season included a tough loss to Tennessee and blowout defeats at the hands of Georgia and Texas A&M. 

Things got a little better in 2021 as the “Shane Train” started up with new head coach Shane Beamer. South Carolina was an impressive 5-2 at home but only 7-6 overall. 

But the real treat for students who had witnessed years of Gamecock football agony finally came in 2022. South Carolina was again 5-2 at home, but these wins just meant more. Beamer and the team beat Texas A&M for the first time ever and knocked off Tennessee in the first of two major playoff spoilers. For the seasoned fans who traveled to see the Gamecocks beat Clemson the next week, it was even sweeter. 

"It's crazy coming off of a win against Tennessee and Clemson. I mean, for those to be our last few regular season games, that is just such fun momentum coming into this season," Thompson said. "The great thing about our team and the leaders of our team is that they still kept that humble, chasing mindset."

The emotions of being a USC student during football season have changed so much over the past three years that the student section itself got a new name. In 2021, the university gave the section the name “The Cockpit." Although the new moniker was an adjustment, it represented a shifting tide for the fanbase. 

And while South Carolina will have a hard time putting together a dominant season — the direct effect of having Georgia, Clemson, Texas A&M, Florida and Tennessee on the annual calendar plus guest appearances from Alabama, Auburn and the rest of the SEC West — that is changing too. Starting in 2024, the SEC will drop the divisions entirely,and the Gamecocks will play just three of the previously mentioned seven teams. 

College only lasts for about four years, and I spent my first three at USC laughing at the "best four years of your life" cliché. But amid a rapidly changing, and often daunting landscape, it is a great time to be a Gamecock football fan. The stadium is back to full capacity, South Carolina beat Clemson for the first time since 2013, and, for the senior class, it represents the beginning of an end.

Whether the team is 6-6 or 10-2, savor the time you have in “The Cockpit” this fall. Cheer for every Spencer Rattler touchdown and each Nick Emmanwori interception. Stay after the game to enjoy the alma mater when you can, and enjoy every single Sandstorm. 

Forever to thee!