South Carolina football: USC quarterback Phil Petty dies

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

The late Phil Petty is pictured Dec. 20, 2001 at Williams-Brice Stadium, less than two weeks before the Outback Bowl against Ohio State, his final 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 at quarterback under coach Lou Holtz at South Carolina and led the Gamecocks to back-to-back Outback Bowl victories against Ohio State during the 2000 and 2001 seasons. He was a finalist for the Johnny Unitas award, given to the top quarterback in the country, as a senior.

Petty was MVP of the second Outback Bowl victory, throwing for 227 yards and two scores in the 31-28 win over the Buckeyes.

“Phil Petty typified what a Gamecock truly is,” South Carolina athletic director Ray Tanner said in a statement Thursday. “A native South Carolinian, he was a fighter on the football field, a tremendous person off the field and beloved by all Gamecocks. He was a great friend to many and a wonderful dad and husband. My prayers go out to his wife, Morgan, children, Sage and McCoy, and his many friends.”

Petty died after a brief illness. Funeral arrangements were not known as of Thursday afternoon.

Phil Petty at South Carolina

Petty signed with the Gamecocks under then-head coach Brad Scott. He starred at Boiling Springs High School in the Upstate and was the offensive MVP for the state’s 1996 Shrine Bowl team.

He redshirted at USC in 1997, then backed up Anthony Wright at quarterback in 1998 before taking over as the starter in the 1999, 2000 and 2001 seasons. Lou Holtz became the head coach for South Carolina before the 1999 season.

“So, sad, heartbroken over this one. He was one of my favorite guys there,” Scott told The State. “He was special. I thought he had all those intangibles and loved the game. He was always studying it and was very competitive. He had great timing, great pocket presence, all the things great quarterbacks had. I thought he would be a special player and turned out to be that.”

Petty was was a major part in the program’s turnaround from 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 ABC Columbia’s Mike Gillespie. “He was a great player but he was also a better teammate. Players come and go. Teammates last a lifetime.”

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

“Everyone’s heart is broken,” train USC offensive lineman Jeff Barnes said. “He was a team-first guy and loyal to the brotherhood we had built. He was a kind-hearted, hard-working guy who loved the game of football and loved his teammates. Just his toughness and grit to bring us from bottom of the barrel, to bring us from not winning any games his freshman year to two Outback Bowls.”

Barnes said one of his favorite memories of Petty was his game-winning touchdown pass to Brian Scott for the 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 linemen, taking them out to dinner once a week during the season.

Petty’s 5,656 career passing yards are seventh overall in South Carolina’s record books. His 17 victories as starting QB are seventh-most all-time.

Said head coach Shane Beamer via Twitter: “So sorry to hear the news of @GamecockFB great Phil Petty passing away. Thoughts & prayers to his family.”

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

Petty took a job in June on the Gray Collegiate football staff. Petty and Gray Collegiate head coach Adam Holmes were teammates at USC and also were in each other’s weddings.

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

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

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Lou Bezjak is the High School Sports Prep Coordinator for The (Columbia) State and (Hilton Head) Island Packet. He previously worked at the Florence Morning News and had covered high school sports in South Carolina since 2002. Lou is a two-time South Carolina Sports Writer of the Year by the National Sports Media Association.
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