When redshirt junior Mike Matulis suffered what could be yet another major injury setback in last Saturday's scrimmage, his teammates were there to surround him with compassion.
Matulis, whose promising career was stalled when shoulder injuries caused him to miss half of the 2012 season and all of last year, had finally returned to USC's starting rotation as a right guard this preseason. But the knee injury he sustained in last Saturday's scrimmage, currently labeled a severe sprain, could turn out to be season-ending when he is re-evaluated in less than two weeks.
"That hurt me personally because me and Mike are real close," said senior quarterback Dylan Thompson. "You don't ever want to see a friend, first of all, go down like that because I've seen how hard Mike worked just to get back to be able to play.
"And then the way he was playing at such a high level, and you see him go down. He's a tough guy; he was out there hurting. It's just really unfortunate for him."
Redshirt senior tight end Cody Gibson, who lives with Matulis, said he's talked to his roommate about the future, including the possibility of giving up football altogether after his latest injury.
"Mike told me he's going to do whatever it takes to come back," Gibson said. "If he has to sit out and do a medical redshirt or whatever he has to do, he said he's going to do whatever it takes to come back and play. Mike knows what he's got to do.
"He knows if it's a torn ACL or whatever it is, he's got a long road, but he said he's totally committed to it."
Gibson can sympathize, being no stranger to nagging injuries himself. Gibson was granted a medical redshirt as a freshman and missed playing time and spring practice last year with knee ailments.
Gibson said Matulis has a "good head on his shoulders" and expects the Boynton Beach, Florida, native to be OK. He said he and redshirt junior offensive lineman Will Sport have tried to wrap Matulis in support lately, hoping to keep him in good spirits.
"It's just staying focused and not going off track and getting depressed," Gibson said. "It's all about who's around you and who's motivating you to come back. Luckily, when I was injured, Mike was right there to push me to come back, and I'm right there for him.
"It's good that we have each other."
Gibson said he and Sport often unwind with Matulis in front of the TV at night, spending as much time as they can with him.
"We stay around him as much as we can because I know how it is to be injured," Gibson said. "You've got to have the right people around you. His family is doing a good job. They're talking to him every day and sending him snacks and stuff. He's doing good."
USC head coach Steve Spurrier said after the injury that center Cody Waldrop would probably slide over to right guard, with Clayton Stadnik taking over at center.
But with Waldrop limited in practice because of an oblique injury, Sport has taken snaps at right guard, Gibson said, adding that Sport has the tools to succeed in that role.
"He's a pretty intelligent kid," Gibson said. "He's smart in the classroom, smart in the film room, smart on the field. I don't think it's going to be a huge blow. I think we can replace him with somebody this season."
Spurrier said recently that if Matulis injury didn't turn out to be season-ending, the Gamecocks would hope to have him back by midseason. Even if Matulis has to miss the season, Thompson is optimistic that the loss won't be devastating.
"We've got confidence in our guys," said Thompson. "They've been rotating throughout camp. Still, just a friend going down like that is never fun at all.