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September 5, 2013

Eric Zeier's first love? USC



Did you know Eric Zeier's first love was the Gamecocks?

Or that his first varsity playing experience came as a point guard on the Lexington High School basketball team in the eighth grade?

Learn more about the former Georgia and NFL star came to root for South Carolina and his take on the upcoming game in his role as color analyst for the UGA radio broadcasts in this exclusive interview with GamecockCentral.com.

Gamecock Central: I was told that before moving to Marietta, Georgia, you actually lived here in Columbia, in Lexington, and were a starting point guard in the eighth grade for Lexington High School. Is that correct?

Eric Zeier: That is a true statement. I lived in Lexington from the fifth through the eighth grades, from '84 through '87. I was there for my middle school years. I didn't start all of the games for Lexington, but I started a few of them.

From Lexington we moved to Germany at the end of my eighth grade year, and I was there as a freshman and sophomore in high school. Then from there we moved to Marietta, Georgia, where I spent my junior and senior years.

GC: What brought you to Columbia to begin with?

Zeier: My dad was in the Army and he was stationed at Fort Jackson. We lived off-base and decided to make Lexington our home. We had a great time. I actually have very fond memories of my time in Lexington. A lot of great, great friendships were formed there. I truly loved being there and was a huge Gamecock fan for a long time because of my time there.

GC: Wait, what? You were a huge Gamecock fan?

Zeier: Absolutely; I made it to a number of games there. (Former South Carolina football letterman) Ed Pitts, who is a huge Gamecock, was my little league baseball coach and through him I got involved with going to games and becoming a fan. Carolina was really the first team that I cheered for consistently, that I followed closely.

GC: So the obvious question then is did that factor into your recruitment at all?

Zeier: I wouldn't have put Carolina in my top five, but they were in my top 10. It was a school I looked at pretty closely before I made my decision. My top five coming out of high school was Georgia, Florida State, Alabama, the University of Miami and Auburn. Carolina would have been right there six-seven-eight or so.

But living in Marietta at the time, I wanted to stay as close to home as I possibly could, and everything fit with Georgia.

GC: When you committed to Georgia, the Bulldogs were not known as a prolific passing team at all, correct?

Zeier: That's absolutely the case. We brought in Wayne McDuffie and Steve Ensminger for the '91 year, so right at the end of the '90 season they came on board, and as soon as they came on board the mindset was that they were going to bring the Florida State offense to Georgia.

If you'd have taken football out of the mix, Georgia would be the place I'd have gone to school, and all of a sudden you put that offense in place, with the tradition and history of Georgia, all of that made my decision pretty easy.

GC: In your career at Georgia you set 18 SEC records and a whopping 67 school records.

Zeier: I think that's the number, but my goodness, they're all going by the wayside. When David Greene came through most of them went, and by the end of this year all of them should be gone thanks to Aaron Murray rewriting the record books.

GC: Getting to the game this weekend, what's the perception of South Carolina now in Athens?

Zeier: South Carolina has elevated themselves to a national power on the national stage year-in and year-out. They've done it, everybody thinks of Steve Spurrier as an offensive mind, an offensive genius, but one thing about his teams is they play great defense, and that's what Carolina has absolutely done. I look at the job that he has done over the past several years, and it really started on the defensive side of the ball. They are physical, they are fast, they are strong.

The other thing is Steve Spurrier-coached teams is they will have the ability to run the ball. You remember the Fun 'N' Gun at Florida, but what really set them apart was the ability to run the football when they needed to run it. Many times it was opened up by throwing the football very aggressively, of course, through the air.

But his teams are very strong defensively, and that's what's elevated South Carolina to the point they're at now. This year is no different, and they now have the ability to run the football well. He can hurt you on the ground, he can hurt you being aggressive through the air, and his defenses hurt you. That's a pretty good formula for success.

GC: Were there any positives to take coming out of last weekend's loss to Clemson?

Zeier: Absolutely. First of all, Clemson's got a great football team. They're in the top 10, now the top five, for a reason. Tajh Boyd is unbelievably talented, they've got athletes across the field and play with a lot of emotion. Any time you go on the road and play in front of a hostile crowd like that against a very quality opponent, I think the game you saw was pretty much what we expected.

The positives are that we have a defense that lost a number of starters to the NFL, the guys that stepped in and played, while young, are really talented. They have great athletic ability and they stepped up and made a lot of plays against one of the best offenses they'll see all year. You have to be encouraged by the job that was done by that defensive unit. Obviously work still needs to be done and there's room to improve, but those guys came in and played very well, if not slightly exceeding expectations for the first game.

Todd Gurley continues to shine and continues to play well. Aaron Murray had a solid game. He'll look at that game and probably have one or two plays he'd like to take back, but you look at the game in its entirety he played solidly and put us in a position to win. So really it's just cleaning up a few mistakes playing a top-10 team that you simply can't have, the penalties we incurred, a lot of which had to do with the crowd noise, the atmosphere we were playing in.

You get a few of those things tightened up and you're going to be in pretty good shape. SO all in all, a lot of positives to take out but things that need to be corrected if you're going to have a chance to beat a team that plays at he caliber and has the talent level South Carolina has.

GC: One criticism of USC starting quarterback Connor Shaw has been that despite an 18-3 record as a starter, he doesn't have a signature road win. As a former quarterback, what do you see when you look at Shaw?

Zeier: I don't look at performances on the road as a weakness. Anytime you go on the road in the SEC, it is tough, tough to win. There's so much excitement, so much emotion. Just look at the Georgia-South Carolina game from last year. The emotion in that stadium was as good as I've ever seen. It's a tough, tough environment to play in.

I look at this offense and what Connor Shaw can do and what he gives to a team, and they are dangerous across all fronts. They have the ability to run the ball extremely well. Connor can hurt you with his arm or with his legs, and it's just a matter of time before he gets that big road-win monkey off his back. It's a team game, and Connor puts his team in a position to win, and I don't think anybody in Bulldog Nation looks at that as a weakness.

GC: Finally, what do you anticipate from the game on Saturday?

Zeier: That we'll have our work cut out for us from the first snap, the first whistle, to the final gun. It's going to be a great battle and a great football game to play in if you're a player and to watch if you're sitting in my chair.

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