By Rixon Lane
Five hundred and nine.
By my count, it has been five hundred and nine kickoff returns since South Carolina took one back for a touchdown.
It is a streak that spans 4,386 days and 151 college football games.
Not since Matthew Thomas streaked 95 yards in an eventual upset loss on the road against Virginia in the second game of the 2002 season has South Carolina returned a kickoff for a touchdown.
In fact, starting in 2002, 52 different Gamecocks have returned a kick for South Carolina. Exactly one of them reached the end zone.
Below are the names with their number of returns and yardage.
South Carolina's kick return stats feature no rhyme or reason. Melvin Ingram averaged 18 yards per return, while Cory Boyd averaged 14.6. Ace Sanders, the greatest punt returner in program history, returned exactly two kickoffs in his career, while Patrick DiMarco returned three. Alshon Jeffery, deemed by many as too slow to be an NFL wide receiver, returned his only career kick for 35 yards. If that stood as an official career average, he'd be the greatest statistical return man in Gamecock football history.
Here is how the team's average returns over the past 12 years look in graph form:
Yes, you read that correctly. South Carolina averaged 16.0 yards per return in 2004.
"But wait," you say while trying not to throw up in your own mouth after looking at that chart, "those numbers are skewed by players who had to return short kicks. Most of the returners you listed were never meant to be kickoff returners."
If we only look at players who returned at least 10 kicks for the Gamecocks over the past 12 seasons, we get 12 names: Ryan Brewer, Shon Carson, Pharoh Cooper, Chris Culliver, Bruce Ellington, Andrea Gause, Victor Hampton, Captain Munnerlyn, Carlos Thomas, Matthew Thomas, and Troy Williamson. These 12 players returned 403 of South Carolina's last 509 kickoffs.
The average return from the 12 best returners that South Carolina has had over the past 12 seasons?
91 players in college football averaged over 21.8 yards per kickoff return in 2013 alone.
It is possible that South Carolina may never return another kickoff for a touchdown. It could be that the ancient Mayans, while slightly missing on when the world would end, correctly predicted that the Gamecocks would never execute the most exciting play in football after September of 2002. If so, Matthew Thomas, his 95-yard trek, and that autumn evening in Charlottesville will live on in infamy.
The night the kick return died.