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By Patrick T. Walsh, USC Sports Information

On Saturday night, Gamecock football said goodbye to an incredible group of seniors that have seen the USC program undergo one of the most amazing turnarounds in college football history. Among the talented crop of outgoing seniors is Rod Thomas, a redshirt senior from DeLand, Fla.

Thomas considers himself the big brother of the group, trying to teach others the ins and outs of the game.

“I’ve played the big brother role,” said Thomas. “As a senior, I’m the big, wise, older brother that knows the ropes and teaches young guys the right things to do. I help them stay focused on things that need to get done.”

The role as the teacher comes naturally for Thomas, who plans on teaching after his journey through Carolina comes to an end.

“After graduating, I plan on moving back to Florida and getting a teaching job in the Orlando area,” said Thomas. “I really want to teach elementary school kids.”

With academics always being an important part of his life, Thomas admits one of his best experiences at Carolina is still yet to come.

“Outside of football, my best memory about USC will be when I graduate,” Thomas said. “There will be nothing better for me than to see several years of hard work come together to finally get my degree.”

A tough competitor, Thomas extended his stay at Carolina one more year after suffering a season-ending ankle injury early last season against Temple.

“Last year was eye opening,” recalled Thomas. “I hadn’t missed a season in such a long time that I couldn’t remember what it was like to go through a fall without football. Football has been such a big part of my life that not being able to play last season was a new experience for me. It was somewhat disappointing but it also gave me the opportunity to sit back and focus on some other things in my life.”

A fifth year at Carolina has been a good thing, especially with the family atmosphere that is fostered among the Gamecock squad year in and year out.

“It’s great being in such a close group; being part of a goal, part of a team,” said Thomas. “We’ve been able to go out there and smile about it, regardless of the outcome.”

Thomas has also had the opportunity to be a part of some great moments in football this season; memories that will last a lifetime for him.

“From this season, the most memorable moment would be playing against Virginia and the way we felt going into overtime at Tennessee,” said Thomas. “The team togetherness that was there – it was like nothing could come between us. We had stuck together the entire game. It was what teamwork was all about.”

After he moves on from Carolina, he’ll always remember the fans and their loyalty.

“Our fans are the best,” said Thomas. “The craziest thing I have ever seen USC fans do was tear down the goalposts after we beat Georgia a couple years ago. That is something I had never seen before. It was something that I’ll never forget.”