In 1980, South Carolina running back George Rogers ran his way to the Heisman Trophy and a place in college football history.
With Rogers stampeding all over the field, the Gamecocks put together a good season with a final record of 8-4.
At the start of the year, South Carolina returned a lot of talent, although no one carried as much hype and pressure as Rogers.
Rogers became a standout player during his junior year when he ran for 1,681 yards, which vaulted him onto the national scene. The senior running back entered the 1980 season with high expectations as a Heisman hopeful.
South Carolina not only thought it had a potential Heisman winner but also a national championship-caliber team. Unfortunately, the Gamecocks did not contend for a title, although Rogers did make history.
Rogers was the focal point of the South Carolina offense, as he led the nation in rushing attempts with a staggering 297 rushes.
More impressive than the volume of his carries were the amount of yards he racked up as well as his yards per carry. Rogers amassed 1,781 yards on the ground, which gave him 6.0 yards per attempt, good for second in the nation.
Rogers did not just do his damage with racking up yardage; he also scored 14 touchdowns on the ground that season, which ranked him second in college football.
He hit the ground running in 1980 when South Carolina entered a matchup with the highly ranked University of Southern California. While the Gamecocks lost that game, Rogers ran for 141 yards.
Rogers and the Gamecocks then traveled to Ann Arbor to take on the Michigan Wolverines at the Big House in a hostile environment. South Carolina stole a victory, as Rogers ran for 142 yards and continued to grab some of the national spotlight.
The Gamecocks cruised to a few more victories, setting up a big-time battle with the Georgia Bulldogs on national television. It was the perfect opportunity for Rogers to set himself apart from the other Heisman contenders.
Rogers ran for 168 yards but had a crucial fumble in the fourth quarter. He was outperformed by fellow Heisman candidate Herschel Walker, who ran for 219 yards and had a key 76-yard touchdown run.
The fumble became a major red flag for Rogers' Heisman campaign and had the chance to overshadow his performance in 1980, according to Sports Illustrated's Mike DelNagro in the December 1980 issue:
What might damage Rogers more was his fourth-quarter fumble on the Georgia 16. But remember, two years ago Oklahoma's Billy Sims made a similar fumble that cost the Sooners a possible national title and gave Nebraska a tie for the Big Eight championship. And he still won the Heisman. Rogers should do so, too.
Despite the fumble, Rogers went on to close out the 1980 season with three more games of 100 or more rushing yards, which brought his 100-plus-yard rushing streak to 21 games. Rogers then extended the streak in the bowl game, making it 22 games.
With 100 or more yards rushing in every game and his nation-leading statistics, Rogers was invited to the 1980 Heisman Trophy Presentation.
He told Jody Barr of WISTV 30 years after his Heisman campaign:
They got me out of Duluth Georgia. Flew me up. At the end of the day, it was just me. But I was in the room, walking around just thinking what I'm going to do, what I'm going to say if I won the Heisman. And surely the next morning, they woke me up and they told me, "you won the Heisman Trophy."
Rogers took home the Heisman Trophy in dramatic fashion, since it was the first and only Heisman Trophy awarded to a Gamecock in school history.
Rogers started the year as a top running back but as a long shot to win the Heisman, since South Carolina was not in the national spotlight. Then, he put together a memorable senior season, captured the Heisman Trophy and claimed a place in college football history.
Looking back on the Heisman, Rogers told Barr of WISTV, "I'd give the Heisman Trophy back to get a National Championship, to be honest with you, because that's how much my team means to me."
He was the ultimate team player who understood how important the concept of "team" was in college football.
In 1980, Rogers became a South Carolina football legend by winning the school's only Heisman Trophy to this day. Rogers had his No. 38 jersey retired before the season's end and went on to be the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft.
While Rogers' attitude, team mindset and exceptional rushing skills lifted him to win the Heisman in 1980, his character to this day shows how much South Carolina means to him.
Rogers will always be a South Carolina Gamecocks' legend after he marched his way to the 1980 Heisman Trophy.
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