It has been quite a season for first-year head coach Will Muschamp and his University of South Carolina football team. Predicted by many to finish dead last in the Southeastern Conference’s East Division, the Gamecocks are 5-5 on the season following last Saturday’s loss to the Florida Gators.

USC won three straight prior to the setback, including a dramatic victory over preseason darling Tennessee. Helping to fuel this resurgence has been a large cast hailing from Mobile and Baldwin counties, including five players, an assistant coach and an analyst.

Courtesy of University of South Carolina | Front row, from left: Darius Whitfield (Mobile), Ulric Jones (Oxford), Boosie Whitlow (Opelika), Jonathan Walton (Daphne), Taylor Stallworth (Mobile), Jalen Dread (Foley). Back row, from left: Stephon Taylor (New Orleans), Jamarcus King (Mobile), Jake Bentley (Opelika), Griffin Gentry (Birmingham).

Courtesy of University of South Carolina | Front row, from left: Darius Whitfield (Mobile), Ulric Jones (Oxford), Boosie Whitlow (Opelika), Jonathan Walton (Daphne), Taylor Stallworth (Mobile), Jalen Dread (Foley). Back row, from left: Stephon Taylor (New Orleans), Jamarcus King (Mobile), Jake Bentley (Opelika), Griffin Gentry (Birmingham).

Jamarcus King — After playing wide receiver at Mattie T. Blount High School, King found success as an All-American cornerback at Coffeyville Community College. He quickly become a fan favorite in Columbia after earning SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors in USC’s 24-21 upset of the Volunteers. King intercepted two passes, the first setting up a touchdown and the second sealing the win. For the year, King has three picks, recovered a fumble and recorded 42 total tackles.

Jonathan Walton — A longtime feature at linebacker for the Gamecocks, Walton entered his senior year with more than 100 tackles while missing just one game in his career. He has not slowed down this season, as he is fourth on the team with 48 total tackles. Walton, who played at Bayside Academy, also has 4.5 tackles for loss and one forced fumble.

Taylor Stallworth — The junior who graduated from Murphy High has started every game this year on the defensive line. He has lettered every season for the Gamecocks. He has recorded 32 total tackles, one sack, three pass breakups and two quarterback hurries.

Jalen Dread — The sophomore linebacker from Foley High was named the Most Improved Freshman on defense in 2015. He also earned a berth on the 2015 SEC Fall Academic Honor Roll. He officially changed his name in the offseason from Jalen Henry.

Darius Whitfield — The youngest member of the group is a freshman on the offensive line. A graduate of St. Paul’s Episcopal, Whitfield helped the Saints win two state titles on the way to earning all-star honors.

Pat Washington — The 28-year coaching veteran was hired to direct the Gamecocks’ tight ends in December. He has worked in the SEC for 18 years, including at Tennessee when the Volunteers won the national title by beating Florida State in the 1999 Fiesta Bowl. After graduating from Murphy High, Washington went on to start at quarterback for Auburn University.

Demarco McNeil — Another new member of the Gamecocks’ staff, McNeil serves as an analyst for the football program. He spent the previous three seasons as a coach at Alabama State. After being named Alabama’s Mr. Football coming out of Mattie T. Blount High, McNeil was an all-conference defensive tackle at Auburn. A four-year starter for the Tigers, he was named to Auburn’s All-Decade team.

Season ends for USA soccer
The tremendous run by the University of South Alabama women’s soccer team came to a halt Saturday as the Jaguars fell to Auburn 4-0 in the first round of the NCAA playoffs. USA concludes with a 15-6-1 record.

“I want to praise the character of my players and the way that we managed to fight back during the season and postseason to get ourselves here today,” said head coach Graham Winkworth. “Unfortunately, I was not able to prepare the girls well enough and create the right mindset coming in here to Auburn.”

USA advanced after winning its fourth consecutive Sun Belt Conference tournament title. Jemma Purfield scored both goals in the 2-0 title match with Coastal Carolina, and was named the Most Outstanding Player. Joining her on the all-tourney team were Chardé Hannah, Ashlynn Jones, Jana Loeber and Justice Stanford.

Purfield, a sophomore from England, was previously named the SBC Women’s Soccer Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year. Alexis Jordan was picked as Freshman of the Year. On the first-team unit were Purfield, Jordan and Rio Hardy. Monique Autmon, Hannah Godfrey and Danielle Henley were on the second-team unit.

Rams still in the hunt
The women’s soccer team at the University of Mobile lost in the Southern States Athletic Conference championship game 2-1 to William Carey University. Named to the all-tourney roster for the 15-3-2 Lady Rams were Cayla Hebert, Leah Corse, Noemi Mallet and Tyler-Rae Molloy.

For the regular season, Molloy was named the SSAC Player of the Year and Offensive Player of the Year. On the first team with her were Hebert and Corse. Making the second team were Colleen Kennedy, Nikole Cruz, Mallet, Melissa Beaulieu and Anna Carolina Scales. Cheyne Bush was on the all-freshman squad.

UM will next compete in the NAIA playoffs (lineups were not set by press time). After an opening round at campus sites, the final 16 teams will return to the Orange Beach Sportsplex Nov. 28 through Dec. 3 to decide the national champion.

Burn off some turkey
A new Thanksgiving tradition is taking place Nov. 26 in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. That Saturday will feature the ninth annual Kaiser Realty by Wyndham Vacation Rentals Coastal Half-Marathon, 5K race and one-mile Fun Run.

Online registration ($80 for the half-marathon, $35 for the 5K and $20 for the Fun Run) is available at Late registration ($90, $45, $30, respectively) will take place Nov. 25 at the Orange Beach event center at The Wharf and the day of the race at the Orange Beach Sportsplex. For more information call 251-968-9327.

This event helps to introduce the new Run the Beach series starting in 2017. Those events include the Big Beach Half-Marathon (Jan. 29), the Sea Turtle Half-Marathon (Feb. 18) and the second Coastal Half-Marathon (Nov. 25).

USA men to host basketball tourney
The Red Diamond Roundball Classic is set for this weekend at the Mitchell Center on the USA campus. Action starts Friday, with Youngstown State and Jacksonville taking the court at 4:30 p.m. while the Jaguars host Florida International at 7:05 p.m.

On Saturday, FIU and Jacksonville clash at 11:30 a.m. while USA faces Youngstown State at 2:05 p.m. Action wraps up Sunday, with FIU and Youngstown State playing at 12:30 p.m. while USA faces Jacksonville at 3:05 p.m.

For ticket information call 251-461-1USA (1872).