**Story by Kyle Heck/photo provided by South Carolina Athletics Media Relations**
John Abraham played just one year of high school football, so he didn't have high hopes for a career at a major university.
However, South Carolina and head coach Brad Scott were one of the first to come after Abraham and gave the small-town pass rusher from Timmonsville an opportunity.
Abraham turned that opportunity into a fantastic four-year career with the Gamecocks, and a few years after concluding a highly-productive NFL career, Abraham has no regrets about deciding to become a Gamecock.
In fact, it was one of the best decisions of his life that showed him just how close knit the South Carolina football community is. The experience gave him lifelong relationships with both former teammates and players he never shared the football field with. The memories from playing in front of 80,000 passionate fans are something he'll always remember as well.
"Carolina was the first school that really recruited me, so I felt like I would dedicate to them first and give them my first shot," Abraham told Spurs & Feathers. " Even though other schools came after that, they gave me my first shot at being a college athlete. I wasn't sure if I was going to get a scholarship."
Abraham's journey began in Timmonsville, a small town near Florence. Raised in a household that valued hard work and a family-first attitude, Abraham quickly developed a tremendous work ethic. In addition, he lived in a house with his mom, aunt, sister and cousin, which meant he became the man of the house at a young age.
After focusing on track and basketball his first three years at Lamar High School, Abraham decided to give football a try his senior year. He quickly became a disruptive force on the defensive side of the ball, but not many schools knew about him. Scott and South Carolina assistant Brad Lawing stepped in and quickly formed a relationship.
Abraham knew he wanted to stay instate for college, and was deciding between South Carolina, South Carolina State and Clemson. However, there wasn't much of a decision if you took the opinion of mom into account.
"My mom said, 'If you go to any other school other than South Carolina, I'm not going to come see you,'" Abraham recalled. "So that told me what was going to happen."
Abraham came to South Carolina and immediately made an impact. He led the team in sacks all four of his years and soon enough, everyone in the SEC knew about the disruptive edge rusher. The first two years of Abraham's career resulted in average seasons, but the junior and senior campaigns were the worst of South Carolina's history.
The Gamecocks won the first game of Abraham's junior season, but lost 21 consecutive games over the next two years. Those were tough seasons for Abraham to end his college career on, but that was also when he started noticing how dedicated Gamecock Nation was.
"What was really crazy about it was that every game was sold out," Abraham said. "When we won that game in my junior year and then lost 21 straight, (fans) still thought we could win every game. That was my biggest memory."
Abraham also started developing lasting relationships with his teammates. Despite the lack of success on the football field, the team stayed close and Abraham became friends with guys like Jacob Bush, Ray Green, Willie Offord and Kevin Rivers.
A first round pick of the New York Jets in 2000, Abraham was in the Pro Bowl by his second season. After six years with the Jets, Abraham was traded to Atlanta, where he really made his name. He had a career-high 16.5 sacks in 2008 and by the end of his seven seasons with the Falcons, Abraham was the club's all-time sacks leader.
Abraham spent his final two seasons with the Arizona Cardinals, where he was voted to his fifth and final Pro Bowl in 2013. Abraham's 133.5 sacks in the NFL led all active players at the time of his retirement in 2014.
During those 15 successful seasons, Abraham kept up the relationships with his former teammates and formed more with other Gamecocks in the NFL. When he went to Arizona, Abraham knew nothing about the area, but former South Carolina linebacker Jasper Brinkley let Abraham stay with him.
"There was no ifs, ands or buts about it," Abraham noted.
Andre Goodman, Johnathan Joseph and Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers are just a few of the other players that Abraham became close with in what has become a vast network of South Carolina friends.
"Every Carolina guy that I know and anyone that has played, we always take care of each other," Abraham said. "I never thought it was going to be like that."
With such a long career in the NFL, Abraham has had interactions with hundreds of professional players. He's yet to find another school that has as many players stay in contact after going their separate ways than South Carolina.
"I don't know if it's how strong our fan base is and how strong our commitment to the school is," Abraham said. "It just seems like everyone gets along."
Abraham was in Atlanta recently with Brinkley and another former Gamecock, Eric Norwood, to hear current head coach Will Muschamp speak at one of his "Spurs Up" stops. It was the second time that Abraham has been able to speak with Muschamp, and he left impressed.
"He's a coach that's going to be honest and fair, and that's the same way I try to be with people," Abraham said.