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Even South Carolina fans likely never had any illusions about Jadeveon Clowney staying for a senior season in Columbia. But they could easily be forgiven for hoping there wouldn't be a mass exodus of underclassmen after the program's unprecedented third consecutive 11-win season.
Sorry, Gamecock supporters. Three different juniors joined Clowney Friday in officially declaring their intentions to forgo their final year of eligibility, with wide receiver Bruce Ellington, cornerback Victor Hampton and defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles all set to enter April's draft.
"I would like to thank Coach [Steve] Spurrier, Coach [Darrin] Horn and Coach [Frank] Martin for giving me the opportunity to play both football and basketball at South Carolina," Ellington said in a statement, referring not only to his football coach but the school's two hoops coaches during his time as the Gamecocks' point guard.
"I also want to thank all the Gamecock fans and my teammates for the past four years in Columbia," Ellington said. "It's been a great experience and I've been truly blessed."
The loss of all four players stands as a tough blow for Spurrier's program. The impact from losing a potential No. 1 overall selection and All-American like Clowney is obvious, but Ellington was the team's leading receiver for two consecutive seasons, catching 49 passes for 762 yards in 2013; Quarles was a second-team CBSSports.com All-American and unanimous first-team All-SEC selection after collecting 9 sacks and 13.5 tackles-for-loss; and Hampton was a multi-year starter at corner who led the team in passes defended on his way to second-team All-SEC honors.
Ellington leaves on a high note, having made six catches -- several of them of the spectacular variety -- for 140 yards and two touchdowns in the 34-24 win over Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl. He also threw for a touchdown that's worth a second look:
All four players were South Carolina natives who leave the Gamecocks with a career record of 33-6 and played major roles in making this -- despite the frustration in the lack of an SEC East title -- the greatest run of sustained success in program history.
The good news for Spurrier is that he's built that program into one that can withstand draft losses this heavy and still expect to compete for that elusive second division title in 2014. But that doesn't mean it's not bad news that he'll have to.