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December 10, 2012

J.T. Floyd excited to play home-state team in bowl

Bowl selection Sunday will always have certain surprises, and this year was no different - from Northern Illinois receiving the Mid-American Conference's first-ever BCS bid to a nine-win Louisiana Tech team being left out in the cold.

Michigan players, too, had a few surprises in store. The Wolverines knew they'd almost certainly be playing in Florida - either at the Capital One Bowl, the Outback or the Gator Bowl - against a top-flight SEC team.

As schools, conferences and bowl representatives were wheeling and dealing behind closed doors, news started to trickle in. And that afternoon, fifth-year senior J.T. Floyd's phone began buzzing.

"Why is my phone ringing so many times?," he thought to himself. "I probably 15, 20 texts messages and just as many missed calls. I knew something was up."

The calls and texts were from excited friends and family members from Floyd's hometown in Greenville, S.C. The news had broken that the Wolverines would be playing South Carolina in the Outback Bowl.

Two players on the roster - Floyd and redshirt junior defensive tackle Quinton Washington - are from South Carolina. And both are excited to play the Gamecocks on Jan. 1.

"Quinton and I are getting all the jokes," Floyd said. "Everyone is talking about us being the hometown kids, being able to play against our hometown school. It's a great opportunity for us. And it's the SEC-Big Ten - what more could you want?"

Floyd says he grew up rooting for Michigan and Florida State, preferring to pull for out-of-state schools, but he grew up around the Garnett And Black.

His uncle, Norman Floyd, was a defensive back for the Gamecocks in the 1980s, and his grandfather, James Thomas Floyd, Sr., is "probably the biggest South Carolina fan you'll ever meet."

"I'm sure my uncle will be in my ear the whole week," Floyd said, "My grandfather, I'll be interested to see how that goes. He and I talked a little bit this week, but we didn't really talk about the game."

But, come game time, Floyd knows where his family members' allegiances will lie.

"Blood is thicker than water," he said with a smile.

Floyd said South Carolina was the first school he seriously considered, when he was a high school football prospect.

"They were a school I looked at early on, especially because they were the first ones to jump on me and really show me I could play at the collegiate level," he said. "They were definitely in the running. But ultimately, you can't go wrong with the maize and blue, I promise."

And he has seen the program take off since then. When Floyd was growing up in South Carolina - from 1989 to when he left for Ann Arbor - the Gamecocks were a middling 95-109-3. In his lifetime, Floyd had witnessed more double-digit loss seasons (10 losses in 1998 and 11 in 1999) than double-digit win seasons from South Carolina.

But legendary coach Steve Spurrier has changed all of that.

Since Floyd's true freshman season at Michigan, the Gamecocks have gone 44-21 and will play in their fifth consecutive bowl game. Before this stretch, the program had never played in more than two straight bowl games.

"What Spurrier has done, he has just sort of rejuvenated everything, from the fanbase to the players to the whole aura around South Carolina football," Floyd said. He has been instrumental for the program and has helped get them to the next level. And you can see the product. They play extremely hard, and they're well-coached.

"It's kind of like my life is coming full circle. They were my first offer, and now it's my last collegiate game. It's another opportunity, and I'm blessed to play for the maize and blue against South Carolina."


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