Story and photo by Josh Hyber
Bill Currier began his speech with a story.
“Forty-four years ago, last month, I was sitting in the Roost cafeteria eating the best food I’ve ever eaten in my life,” the former Gamecock said. “Not that my mom wasn’t a good cook, but Mrs. K was the best there was.”
The audience of about 350 laughed.
It was a night of many at The Zone at Williams-Brice Stadium, as eight former Gamecock athletes were inducted to the now 177-member University of South Carolina Athletics Hall of Fame.
Currier (1974-76) was joined by former South Carolina football players Jamar Nesbit (1995-98) and Eric Norwood (2006-09), men’s basketball player Larry Davis (1996-97), baseball player Randy Martz (1777), softball player Tricia Popowski (1988-91) and swimmer Jennifer (Van Assen) Brunelli (2001-04).
Former football player (1977-80) and current Board of Trustees member Chuck Allen was elected for his contributions to the program on and off the field.
“All these athletes have been great in their respective sports and have been great ambassadors for the University of South Carolina,” SC Director of Athletics Ray Tanner told the crowd. “They have laid the foundation for the young men and women who have followed them today.”
Added University President Dr. Harris Pastides, “I know this is not Cooperstown or Canton, Ohio or Springfield, Massachusetts, but I wouldn’t want to be at any other Hall of Fame event tonight than right here in Columbia at USC.”
Before the hour-and-a-half ceremony inducted the 50th Hall of Fame class, all the inductees lingered among family, friends, fans near tables displaying memorabilia from their careers.
Norwood — the linebacker who was named a first-team All-America in 2009 and was a three-time All-SEC first-team selection — spoke about his favorite memories in Columbia, including all the times he went to his favorite chicken restaurant.
“It’s an honor and it’s humbling. I’m really at a loss for words,” Norwood said during his speech. “Maybe when I come back next year for the Hall of Fame I can have (some time for) the rest of my speech.”
At South Carolina, Norwood became the school record holder in sacks (29) and tackles for loss (54.5). He also tied an NCAA record by returning two fumbles for touchdowns against Kentucky in 2007. He later went on to play for the Carolina Panthers and in the Canadian Football League.
Norwood fondly remembered his time as a Gamecock, as did all eight honorees.
“During (this past season’s) Final Four, I have twin boys, and they were wearing my jerseys,” said Davis, who was named first-team All-SEC by the Associated Press in 1997.
“One would have the black one and the other one would have the white one on and they would run around the house. They’re big Gamecock fans.”
Davis — whose two-year scoring mark of 1,068 points is the second-most points ever scored by a two-year player — then grinned when asked if he could still put on a jersey play.
“I still play a little bit. I still play a little bit,” he said as highlights of himself playing against at Kentucky flashed on a screen behind him. “I love the game. I love teaching the game … I wish I could turn back the hands of time and give it one last hurrah.”
Nesbit marveled at his class picture.
“I was actually looking at the jacket,” the three-time All-SEC offensive tackle said. “I think it was one we all passed around to take the picture … Same jacket, and maybe even the same tie too.
“Man, nobody owned ties in college.”
Nesbit, who spent 11 years in the NFL with the Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints, talked about all the memories that have come rushing back to him in recent weeks.
“The honor is far and away beyond anything I would have pictured for myself,” he said. “… I’m extremely humbled and grateful for the honor. I think it’s one of those things that I’m really glad people appreciated my efforts when I was here.
“I grew up here. I came here as a 17, 18-year-old kid and left as a 21, 22-year-old man.”
Allen was a standout defensive tackle for the Gamecocks who helped lead the team to the 1979 Hall of Fame Bowl and the 1980 Gator Bowl, the latter of which he was a team captain for.
“It was a real pleasure and honor to serve as captain,” Allen said during his speech. “On some teams, coaches choose the captains. On ours teams, the players chose the captains, and it was a secret ballot.
“It was kind of funny. Only 40 guys could vote and I won by 50 votes.”
Currier played DB in Columbia, where he earned All-South Independent honors and represented SC in the 1976 Blue-Gray All-Star Game. He was then drafted by the Houston Oilers in 1977 and spent nine seasons in the NFL with the Oilers, Patriots and New York Giants.
Martz helped lead coach June Raines' team to the 1977 College World Series championship game. In his only season with SC, Martz posted a 14-0 record, earning first-team All-America honors and the Lefty Gomez Plate as the nation’s most outstanding player.
Martz took the podium and told the story of Judd Frick, a man who sat by the Gamecock dugout every game.
“It got to be tradition, and I started to get superstitious, that before every game I would rub his nose,” Martz said. “When we got to the World Series I said, ‘Hey Judd, we’re going to the World Series. ‘Can I rub it before we go? Three times, because I might pitch three times.’
“He said, ‘Sure’. So I did, and won two games at the World Series.”
Popowski earned NSCA All-America recognition in each of her final three seasons, including first-team honors in both 1989 and 1991 as an outfielder. During her career she had 279 hits, including an NCAA record 51 triples.
“The memories and opportunities that have resulted from me being part of this institution have been endless,” she said during her speech. “It has never been lost on me that I played for something bigger than myself. I played for the program.”
Jennifer (Van Assen) Brunelli achieved All-America status seven times during her Gamecock career, earning certificates in the 100 Freestyle, 200 Freestyle, 200 Free relay, 400 Free relay and 800 Free relay. She was named first-team All-SEC in 2004.
“I better not cry, because I’m going to have to explain to my little one that they’re happy tears,” Brunelli, who now works for the Carolina Panthers, told the crowd. “This is such an honor. There are no words to explain this feeling.”
The feeling was mutual.