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South Carolina Football: USC quarterback Phil Petty dies

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The late Phil Petty is pictured on December 20, 2001 at Williams-Brice Stadium, less than two weeks before the Outback Bowl against Ohio State, his last game with the South Carolina Gamecocks.

The late Phil Petty is pictured on December 20, 2001 at Williams-Brice Stadium, less than two weeks before the Outback Bowl against Ohio State, his last game with the South Carolina Gamecocks.

Former South Carolina quarterback Phil Petty died Thursday. He was 43 years old.

Petty was a three-year starter under coach Lou Holtz in South Carolina and led the Gamecocks to back-to-back Outback Bowl victories against Ohio State in 2001 and 2002. He was a finalist for the Johnny Unitas Award. the nation’s top quarterback during his senior season.

Petty was the 2002 Outback Bowl MVP after throwing for 227 yards and two points in a 31–28 win over the Buckeyes.

“Phil Petty epitomizes what Gamecock really is,” South Carolina athletic director Ray Tanner said Thursday. “A native of South Carolina, he was a fighter on the football field, a terrific personality off the field and a favorite of all Gamecocks. He was a great friend to many and a wonderful father and husband. I pray to his wife, Morgan, children, Sage and McCoy, and his many friends.”

Petty died after a short illness. The cause of death was not immediately known. No funeral was known as of Thursday afternoon.

Phil Petty in South Carolina

Petty signed with the Gamecocks under then head coach Brad Scott. He starred at Upstate Boiling Springs High School and was the offensive MVP for the 1996 Shrine Bowl State Team.

He redshirted for USC in 1997, then backed up Anthony Wright as a quarterback in 1998 before starting in the 1999, 2000 and 2001 seasons. Lou Holtz became South Carolina’s head coach ahead of the 1999 season.

“So, sad, heartbroken over this. He was one of my favorite guys out there,” Scott told The State. “He was special. I thought that he has all these intangible assets and he loves the game. He always studied it and was very competitive. He had great timing, great pocket presence, everything great quarterbacks have. I thought he was going to be a special player and he turned out to be.”

Petty was instrumental in changing the program in the 1998 (1–10) and 1999 (0–11) seasons as South Carolina finished 8–4 and 9–3 in 2000 and 2001, respectively.

“I have great memories of him” Holtz told Mike Gillespie of ABC Columbia. “He was a great player, but he was also the best teammate. Players come and go. Teammates stay for life.”

During his final two seasons at USC, Petty completed 306 of 547 passes for 4,079 yards and 17 touchdowns, leading South Carolina. In 2000, he threw for 2,110 yards, helping the Gamecocks to an 8-4 finish, the biggest single-season turn in Division IA history since the 1999 0-11 campaign.

“Everyone’s heart is broken“said former USC offensive lineman Jeff Barnes. “He was the first guy on the team and is true to the brotherhood we have built. He was a kind, hardworking guy who loved football and loved his teammates. It was only his grit and perseverance that got us up from rock bottom to winning no games in our freshman year and winning two Outback Bowls.”

Barnes has said that one of his favorite memories of Petty was his game-winning touchdown pass to Brian Scott in a 14-9 win over Georgia in the 2001 season.

Barnes, who is now the athletic director and offensive line coach at Hammond, said Petty always took care of his linesmen, taking them out to dinner once a week during the season.

With 5,656 career passing yards, Petty ranks seventh in the South Carolina book of records. His 17 wins as a starting QB is the seventh most of all time.

Head Coach Shane Beamer tweeted: “Sorry to hear the news of the passing of the great Phil Petty on @GamecockFB. Thoughts and prayers to his family.”

After USC, Petty signed with the Tennessee Titans as a free agent but was released. In 2003, he worked at Columbia’s Hammond School and in 2004 was a Gamecocks alumnus assistant. He also worked as an assistant coach for the East Carolina football team for several years.

In June, Petty took a job with the Gray Collegiate football team. Petty and Gray Collegiate head coach Adam Holmes were teammates at USC and also attended each other’s weddings.

“He was my brother and the leader of our team,” Holmes said. “He brought us to the turn we had and was a great friend, a great father and husband.”

This story was originally published July 21, 2022, 10:38 am

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Lou Bezjak is the High School Athletic Coordinator for The (Columbia) State and (Hilton Head) Island Packet. He previously worked for the Florence Morning News and has covered high school sports in South Carolina since 2002. Lou has twice been named Sports Writer of the Year in South Carolina by the National Sports Media Association.
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