The Outback Bowl. Tampa, Florida. A familiar scene for senior cornerback Akeem Auguste. In a way, the setting to an anti-climatic finish to a breakout freshman year back on New Year's Day 2009. Fast forward four years, and Auguste, a fifth-year senior, gets to end his career on a high note in a place where the South Carolina Gamecocks ended the 2008 season on the lowest of low notes.
That January 1, 2009, the 7-5 Gamecocks stepped onto the field at Raymond James Stadium at the conclusion of a very up-and-down season that saw South Carolina open with a 34-0 win over North Carolina State, only to lose its final two games against Florida and Clemson by a combined 87-20.
As wayward as the season seemed, Auguste, as a freshman, exploded on the scene, showing an immense amount of promise for the Gamecocks for not only 2008 but for the future of the program.
In 11 games played, Auguste registered 18 total tackles as well as a forced fumble against Arkansas. But in what became an unfortunate trend in Auguste’s career, a hamstring injury hampered his production late in the season against Florida (DNP) and Clemson (two plays). The injury was bad enough to keep Auguste out of the impending Outback Bowl contest with Iowa.
Thus Auguste watched from the sidelines as the Hawkeyes blew out the Gamecocks by a score of 31-10. A lopsided end to an inconsistent season.
But Auguste’s hamstring healed, and he built upon the success of his freshman campaign, registering 38 tackles in 2009 and 58 in 2010 as the Gamecocks were finally positioning themselves to be a viable contender in the SEC East.
With the 2011 season looming, Auguste was not only a lock to be a starter but to be an anchor and leader in the secondary for the Gamecocks. But a nagging foot injury first suffered during camp and then later during practice leading up to the East Carolina game kept Auguste out of South Carolina’s opener.
Auguste managed to return the following week against Georgia, but the pain in his foot still hampering his play eventually forced him into season-ending surgery. Again, Auguste would find himself on the sidelines for another South Carolina bowl game; this time a 30-13 victory against Nebraska.
Having taken a medical redshirt for his shortened 2011 season, Auguste returned for his fifth season for the Gamecocks with nothing short of redemption on his mind. Clearly if there was anyone itching to get back on the playing field, it was Auguste on a defense that created and delivered upon early buzz of being one of the elite units in the SEC.
But how cruel the hands of fate are. Just as Sisyphus had summoned all of his strength to roll the massive boulder uphill only to watch it roll back down to where he began, Auguste again became hampered by injuries.
A right thigh muscle injury on top of an aggravated groin injury suffered before the 2012 season even began, forced Auguste out of action for another four games after undergoing surgery.
Finally, on September 29th, against Kentucky in Lexington, Auguste took the field for the first time in 21 months, registering 4 tackles. He would see action in South Carolina’s statement win over Georgia and in the loss against LSU, but it seemed to be a far cry from the output he provided from 2008-2010.
And then came Senior Day. November 17th. A total of 29 seniors, including Auguste, were honored in their final home game at Williams-Brice Stadium when South Carolina hosted Wofford. A game for that for all intents and purposes should not have been as close as it was entering the fourth quarter.
However, behind a field goal and a Connor Shaw touchdown pass, the Gamecocks broke a 7-7 deadlock and led by 10 with eight minutes remaining. The Terriers took over at their own 25-yard line and went to, what else, but their running game behind star back Eric Breitenstein, who had been a rock for Wofford all game long.
But on second down, Breitenstein fumbled the ball, and who was there to recover for South Carolina but the previously honored Auguste, who returned the fumble back for a touchdown to seal the victory for the Gamecocks.
A fitting end on Senior Day for one of South Carolina’s most celebrated players with his first collegiate touchdown a week after his first collegiate interception against Arkansas. And then a week later, the celebration continued with a career sweep for Auguste and the previously celebrated seniors over in-state rival Clemson.
But how even more fitting for Auguste to call it a career at the Outback Bowl. Not exactly where it all started but certainly where that first season ended. An embattled career of strong performances mixed with the unfortunate circumstance of injury.
Certainly Auguste will not be the only player on either sideline taking the field for the final time of their college career, but I’m sure the cornerback could make an argument that if anyone wants to win that game more against Michigan, considering all of the ups and downs in his career, it’s No. 3 in the defensive backfield.
“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.” – Henry V, Act III
Auguste and the No. 10 South Carolina Gamecocks face off against the No. 18 Michigan Wolverines on New Year’s Day at 1:00pm ET on ESPN.