This was not how things were supposed to go for Akeem Auguste.
He was supposed to be in the NFL by now. He was not supposed to be preparing for his final game at South Carolina after two disappointing seasons left him with more questions than answers.
Auguste missed nearly all of the 2011 season with a foot injury, and he redshirted so he could return and prove his lingering injury was a fluke. But a groin injury and other various aliments cost him five games this season. Since his return for the Kentucky game, he’s tried to put all that behind him and focus on closing his career with a flourish.
“I was questioning myself since I was always getting hurt,” Auguste said. “But my teammates told me to stay positive and just grind. I’ve always been a grinder, and it always worked for me and is continuing to work for me. Now, I’m making a few plays, so everything is coming along.”
He has seemed rejuvenated since his return to the lineup. He notched his first career interception against Arkansas and has been a solid performer in the secondary that was looking for another contributor since his absence. He started the Wofford and Clemson games to close the season.
The injuries also might have been a message to the Hollywood, Fla., native.
“I feel it’s been a blessing in disguise,” Auguste said “I got hurt and sat out. So the same time I’m sitting out, I’m resting my body. I just took it as a positive, and maybe God is giving me a sign. Maybe I need to slow down a little bit or do something different I wasn’t doing. Now he has given me my chance back, and I’m trying to do the best I can and make the best of my ability.”
The frustration could have derailed Auguste’s dream of playing in the NFL, but defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward has been pleased with the way Auguste has overcome his obstacles the past two years.
“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” Ward said. “If he continues to finish strong, then I think he’ll say, even though he didn’t play early, he had a good senior year. He has been doing a good job of being a leader for us since he’s been back, and I think he’s played fairly well.”
The only thing left to do is help USC finish with back-to-back 11-win seasons as the Gamecocks prepare to face Michigan in the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla., on Jan. 1.
“Hopefully, it’s going to be a good one, hopefully with some great memories,” Auguste said. “The biggest goal is to be the seniors that have the most wins in school history. That’s our main goal, and Michigan is in our way, so we’re going to handle business.”
Auguste will have his own cheering section at Raymond James Stadium. His home is in south Florida, and he is expecting a large turnout for his final game.
“They are loading up a bus,” Auguste said of family and friends. “A stack is a whole bunch of people, three or four rows probably. I can’t wait. I haven’t seen them in so long. I live 10 hours away, so going home is difficult. Now I get a chance to go home and play in front of my home crowd two times in one year. That doesn’t happen very often, so it will be a blessing.”
Auguste thinks he will get a shot at the next level, but he wants to finish one final game with a flourish and let things fall where they will.
“I haven’t been on the field like I was supposed to this year,” he said. “I’ll just go on from here and see where I go. I feel good. I’m ready to play. This is probably the best I’ve felt since Georgia. I have a lot of people talking to me because they’ve seen me play in previous years, and I know I have the ability to do it. But I also don’t have a lot of film from this year at corner. I know I have to run well at (USC’s) pro day. As long as I stay healthy, I know I have the ability to play. I’ll make the best of any opportunity.”
WHO: USC (10-2) vs. Michigan (8-4)
WHEN: 1 p.m., Jan. 1
WHERE: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla.
RADIO: WNKT-FM 107.5