Gamecocks, cheetahs and giraffes – oh my!

nwhite@thestate.comDecember 29, 2012 

— Nobody was happier to be at the Busch Gardens theme park Saturday afternoon on an Outback Bowl outing than animal lover Kenny Miles.

South Carolina’s senior tailback stood at the enclosure for the Cheetah Run exhibit and admired the sleek spotted feline standing just on the other side of the glass and dreamed of taking one home.

“I wouldn’t mind a pet cheetah,” Miles announced. “But if he gets out of the house, he’s gone. He ain’t ever coming back.”

Cheetahs, of course, are the world’s fastest land animal, with the ability to run up to 70 miles per hour in short bursts. Teammate Byron Jerideau wondered what would happen if the cheetah ran right at the glass as fast as it could, and about that time, the cat strode straight toward Jerideau and stopped before giving the big defensive tackle a shock – causing him to exclaim: “He winked at me!”

Miles, defensive end Devin Taylor and tight end Justice Cunningham all cracked up at the cheetah’s winking nod to their teammate. But the cheetahs weren’t enough for Miles, who was determined to make his way to the Serengeti Safari exhibit to see the 21 giraffes.

Miles was determined to get to know one of giraffes and name it “Roy.” Why Roy?

He quickly responded, “Why not Roy? Roy’s my boy, and he’s my giraffe.”

Fair enough.

But before the USC players could get there, they headed over to take a ride on the Cheetah Hunt, a triple-launch roller coaster. Just outside the entrance, however, they encountered three of the park’s roving belly dancers, who quickly managed to distract and entrance them. Miles, cornerback Vic Hampton and defensive end Chaz Sutton all took their turns shaking their hips, too, with Hampton the most smitten by the gyrations.

“I can’t do it,” Miles said. “My hips don’t work that way.”

After zipping through the roller coaster ride, the players eagerly headed to the Serengeti to make their connections with the giraffes. As Sarah Benoit, one of the park’s animal care specialists, explained the ground rules for interacting with the giraffes, Sutton asked if he could ride one of them.

Uh, that would be a no.

Benoit stated that giraffes, the tallest land animal, can grow up to 18 feet and weigh as much as 2,800 pounds. Later, she looked at the 6-foot-8 Taylor and said, “He’s a tall man, but giraffes will surpass that in the first three months of life.”

As the players gathered to feed the giraffes branches of leafy vegetation, they expressed amazement at the long tongues, which can be up to 22 inches. Asked if he had ever seen a giraffe up-close before, Hampton said, “Not that close.”

And even though Miles never got the one he dubbed “Roy” to make his way over to the players for a snack, he left the exhibit happy with the experience. Looking at a park map as the group decided where to go next, Miles spotted a description of the Walkabout Way exhibit.

“I want to go see the kangaroos!”

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