While South Carolina waits to see if it will return several players of last year's national championship team, a member of its first title team has been given his clearance to return, a year after leaving.
Now to make it count.
Ethan Carter, dismissed from USC before the 2011 season for a violation of team rules, received word on Wednesday evening that he would be able to at least get a chance to re-join the USC baseball team in 2012. Carter, a freshman on USC's 2010 championship team who spent last season at Louisburg (N.C.) College, had always planned on coming back to the Gamecocks if they would allow him, and it ended up working out.
"Me and coach (Chad) Holbrook talked, and I'll be back in the fall," Carter said. "Right now, we're just waiting to see how the draft comes back, but I will be on campus."
Carter had told GamecockCentral.com throughout the summer that his academics were in line to transfer back to USC, but the only holdup was scholarship money. It appeared that his chances were getting slimmer as (perhaps unexpectedly) players like Adam Matthews and recruit Evan Beal decided to turn down pro baseball to come to school, and it's still not a definite on whether or not Carter will be able to receive money or not.
But he will be on campus and allowed to participate in fall practice. Whether that's as a scholarship player or a player bidding for one of the eight precious walk-on spots depends on how many of USC's players accept or turn down their draft positions.
The Gamecocks are waiting until Monday to see if any of their other drafted players/recruits will come to school, and Carter was on pins and needles as well. Since he couldn't go back to Louisburg (he had used up his sophomore season at the two-year school) and he didn't get drafted (despite being a sophomore, any junior-college player is draft-eligible), he was eyeing going to a Division II school if he couldn't come back to Columbia.
"This is where I want to be," Carter said. "I feel like I have a legitimate shot at being on the team. I'll be there for fall practice. This is just where I want to be.
"I figure a shot here is better than guaranteed anywhere else. I'm comfortable with my abilities that I can make the roster."
Carter came to USC as a solid prospect from Virginia, a right-handed pitcher with a devastating slider. He pitched in 24 games as a freshman, going 3-0 with a 5.46 ERA and two saves. Although most of his appearances were in the season's first half, he was still along for the trip to Omaha and was part of the Gamecocks' first national championship team.
He was dismissed from USC on Jan. 11 and enrolled at Louisburg, where he had a phenomenal 2011. Carter went 9-3 with a 1.75 ERA, striking out 78 and walking only nine. He was named Region X Pitcher of the Year and threw a complete game in every regular-season conference contest (all games were seven innings), plus a complete-game nine-inning game in the conference tournament.
It was enough for the Gamecocks to get re-interested in Carter, a rare second chance given by coach Ray Tanner. Tanner has had a dismissed player come back before - infielder Casey Rihn, kicked off the team after an arrest in May 2009, was allowed to participate in 2009 fall practice but did not make the team - but Carter feels he has made amends and has a chance to re-join the team.
"I made it a point to speak to the entire team before I departed. I told every single one of them, they're my family, my brothers," said Carter, who declined to say the reason for his dismissal. "I learned to make some smarter decisions and put more focus on the field than off the field. I took for granted some of the other opportunities of being a scholarship student-athlete.
"It's not all about baseball. I learned it's more important to be a better person off the field than a great player on the field."
Carter plans to move to Columbia this weekend and get his classes straightened out. He said he will be a junior at USC and plans to major in political science, with two years of eligibility, plus a redshirt year if he had to use one.
Carter's decision was part of a five-day stretch that will help define USC's 2012 season and the chance for a third straight national championship. Deadline day for drafted players to make their decisions is by 11:59 p.m. on Monday. A starting date for fall practice hasn't been announced, but should be in September. Classes at USC begin on Aug. 18.
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