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July 11, 2012
The depth chart is stacked above him. He's the old war horse being turned out to pasture, always ready for duty but considered a backup-backup option, as the younger, faster studs move in front of him.
But Kenny Miles is still around, and that's quite an option to have, emergency or otherwise.
Consider that Miles, a redshirt senior, could have transferred to a smaller school to play his final year of eligibility. Nobody would have blamed him for doing so - the writing is clearly on the wall.
The Gamecocks have running backs, including THE running back in junior Marcus Lattimore. Sophomore Brandon Wilds is back after collecting three 100-yard games in five starts last season. Redshirt freshman Shon Carson has great things expected of him, even coming off knee surgery. USC signed two running-back recruits that will start their careers this fall in Kendric Salley and Mike Davis, the latter toting a sheaf of impressive credentials and a family tree boasting former Clemson back James Davis.
Lattimore will start, and even if his own rebuilt knee needs a break, there are all of those others to come in and tote the ball. Even the freshmen seem to have a bigger upside than Miles, who is still 18 yards shy of 1,000 for his career and has scored three touchdowns in three years, two of them in the Capital One Bowl.
Knowing all that, and knowing that Miles seemed to preface his own departure after choosing to be honored at last year's Senior Day, everyone was prepared to bid Miles a fond farewell. It's a fact of the game - not everybody's going to play. No matter how hard some try, there will always be someone better than them, and in a game that's all about winning, those are the ones that will be on the field.
Yet, spring practice rolled around, and Miles was there. Summer workouts were going on, and not only was Miles there, he was helping whip the younger players into shape. Once fall camp begins on Aug. 3, Miles is expected to come trotting out to the Bluff Road fields, familiar No. 31 stamped on his chest, braids spilling from his helmet.
Because Kenny Miles doesn't quit. He signed with USC to play football, and he's going to finish his career at USC, and that's all there is to it.
"He's one injury away from being the guy," coach Steve Spurrier said during spring practice. "He knows the potential there."
And Spurrier also knows that even if Miles doesn't play much in 2012, he'll be ready to give what he can when he can. It was Miles who was turned to during the regular-season finale against Clemson last year, in an experiment that many had pegged to fail. With USC running short of tailbacks and Wilds bottled up, the Gamecocks needed somebody to go in there and establish a run game.
Miles had been turned to before, in a regular-season game at Vanderbilt in 2010, also in relief of an injured Lattimore. He had not done well, the Commodores swarming over him and forcing the switch to Brian Maddox, who responded with a career game.
So when Miles was sent in against Clemson last year, many at Williams-Brice Stadium just hoped that Miles could keep the ball in the middle of the field and burn clock. If he got a few yards, great.
Miles, in one of the most inspiring performances of the season, instead ran through the Tigers' defense like there were three of him and half as many of them.
Miles carried 21 times for 71 yards against Clemson, bowling over several defenders on a career long-tying 28-yard burst. He used that to springboard into the Capital One Bowl, where he traded the orange he was picking out of his cleats for Nebraska red, churning out 67 yards on 15 attempts, catching two balls for 13 yards and scoring twice, including his only career receiving touchdown.
That would have been a great spot to end a career on (his USC career, anyway), but Miles chose to come back for another season in garnet. "He is truly one of our leaders, and I think he realizes that he is in the best shape of his life right now," running backs coach Everette Sands said during the spring.
Miles prepared for it by continuing to train hard during summer conditioning, and working the new players into the way that USC does things. As part of a summer internship, he helped further burn his way into the hearts of Gamecock fans when he was in Greenville, and stopped by Clemson.
Standing on the turf at Memorial Stadium, in front of the Tigers' scoreboard, Miles sported his usual muscular stance, evident even through a shirt and tie, while holding up three fingers. No way he could pass up that chance.
Or a chance to hold up four next year.
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