Back in the Upstate: Gamecocks' Kelcy Quarles ready for Death Valley chance

Greenwood native says 'it’s just something in me — I can’t explain it — that wants to beat them'

South Carolina's Kelcy Quarles and South Carolina's D.J. Swearinger, both former players at Greenwood High School, meet after the game with Georgia. South Carolina won 35-7.

Photo by Ken Ruinard

South Carolina's Kelcy Quarles and South Carolina's D.J. Swearinger, both former players at Greenwood High School, meet after the game with Georgia. South Carolina won 35-7.

Even though South Carolina defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles participated in last year’s rivalry game against Clemson as a true freshman, he’s more than pumped about Saturday’s 7:15 p.m. game at Death Valley.

“Every day I wake up I start thinking about this game because I’ve never played up there,” Quarles said Tuesday.

The 6-foot-4, 286-pound sophomore, though, does believe he has a firm understanding of what the Clemson-USC rivalry means.

Quarles grew up in Greenwood, which sits about 60 miles from Tiger Town. His first collegiate offer came from Clemson. He has friends and family who pull for the other side.

And most importantly for Quarles, his father, Buddy, played for the Gamecocks and has instilled in his son a passion for this game.

“He tells me everyday to just go get it done and bring back the win,” Quarles said about Buddy, who played for coach Joe Morrison from 1984-87. “This game has been a big rivalry in my family for a long time, since my dad played here. It’s very, very important and vital that we get this one done.”

Quarles did consider playing for the Tigers before committing to USC. But he couldn’t shake the thought of how it would affect his family, and in the end, he picked the school that he felt suited him best.

“My dad always told me he didn’t care what school I went to, but I knew in the back of my mind that if I did go to Clemson that it would be a big thing in my family,” he said. “I kind of knew in my heart and I knew in his heart what he really wanted me to do so I just went with my gut, went where my heart wanted to be.

“If I had went to Clemson, my dad would be proud of me, my family would be proud of me, but it would be a real big thing in my family.”

Quarles missed a chance in Death Valley during his career at Greenwood, when the annual state championships were moved to the Upstate. But the Eagles didn’t make it far enough in the playoffs that season, meaning Saturday will be the first time he runs onto the field of the other school he’s known about his entire life.

“Just to step out there for the first time, I know I’m going to be out of my mind, going crazy, but I’m going to try to control myself and do everything I possibly can to help the team win,” Quarles said.

He’s enjoyed a solid season as a “cleanup man” for talented end rushers Devin Taylor and Jadeveon Clowney, who push the quarterback or running backs right to Quarles on the inside.

He has recorded 36 tackles with seven coming for a loss, and 2.5 sacks after finishing 2011 with no sacks and just two tackles for a loss.

“I feel like I play harder,” Quarles said. “I feel like I give more effort than last year. This year I feel like I can be a big impact on the game.”

Quarles was suspended during the Florida game for throwing a punch against LSU and missed the Tennessee contest with a sprained shoulder, but USC defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward likes the progress he’s seen in Quarles.

“He’s made a lot of plays for us here lately,” Ward said. “He missed a couple games, which probably set him back a little bit, but I’m proud of the way Kelcy’s playing.”

Now, Quarles will look to carry that over to one of the biggest games of his young career.

Need more proof he’s taking this rivalry serious?

He said his emotions about the game began Monday, the same day he showed up early for practice to watch some extra film on Clemson.

“Personally being from this state and coming to South Carolina,” Quarles said, “it’s just something in me — I can’t explain it — that wants to beat them.”

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