Gamecocks in Orlando: After practice, time to rock and roller coaster

nwhite@thestate.comDecember 28, 2013 

— Connor Shaw has developed a reputation as a fearless competitor over his four years at South Carolina, but his warrior mentality took a hit Saturday afternoon at Universal Studios Florida.

As he stepped off the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, the 17-story roller coaster that features speeds of up to 65 miles per hour and the world’s first non-inverting loop, he could utter only two words: “Never again.”

The senior quarterback pulled his hoodie over his head as the roller coaster carrying him and a dozen of his teammates began its steady 167-foot climb to the top before its rapid plunge into a series of loops and turns.

Punter Patrick Fish saw Shaw shaken up in a way he had never seen his friend on the field.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever seen him in tears,” Fish joked. “He never shows emotion, but you could tell.”

Fellow quarterback Dylan Thompson expressed his own nervousness before the ride, and he didn’t feel much better about it about after he got off.

“It was one of the craziest things I’ve ever done,” Thompson said. “That straight-down part is what killed me. I felt like I was falling with no hope. I was just screaming the whole time.”

Even a big, tough offensive lineman like A.J. Cann came away feeling a little unnerved.

“It felt like my stomach flew into my mouth,” Cann said. “I’ve been on some roller coasters before, but that was the craziest one right there.”

The good times continued with enclosed rides on Revenge of the Mummy, another steel roller coaster, and Transformers, a 3D interactive experience, as the players made their way through the theme park. The Gamecocks were clearly having a good time after a wet morning practice.

They drew plenty of stares and posed for plenty of pictures as they enjoyed one of the benefits of a visit to the Capital One Bowl.

“It’s the first time for a lot of guys to come to Orlando and see this experience. It’s a fun time, and we look forward to it,” Shaw said. “The bowl game is a reward for us. We get to have fun. This is what it’s all about right now. But we know the importance of the game. We’re not going to lose our focus.”

Thompson said the off-field experiences provided a different way for the players to see each other, and he called the bowl visits a benefit of their string of successful seasons.

“You keep winning all these games, and you come to good places,” Thompson said.

All the players are trying to keep a balance between enjoying the activities and still working hard enough to come out with a win over Wisconsin on New Year’s Day.

“You keep your mind on football, but at the end of the day, you want to have fun with it,” said cornerback Jimmy Legree. “Being out here with all my brothers and my teammates, we are loving every event, and we’re looking forward to playing the game.”

For his part, Shaw is ready to get back to the football field and show that fearlessness one more time as a Gamecock.

“It’s my last game in a Carolina uniform,” Shaw said. “I plan on having fun when it’s time to have fun. When it’s time to get down to business, I plan on bringing our ‘A’ game.”

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