COLUMBIA, S.C. — Perry Orth did not worry about how difficult the climb would be, setting his sights on just one thing — playing football for South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier.
The former walk-on quarterback checked that off his wish-list last week when he took over for injured starter Connor Mitch and nearly led the Gamecocks back from a 17-point halftime deficit in a 26-22 loss to Kentucky. Now, Orth makes his first start when South Carolina (1-1, 0-1 Southeastern Conference) takes on No. 7 Georgia (2-0, 1-0) on Saturday.
“Perry called me,” said South Carolina receivers coach and recruiting coordinator Steve Spurrier Jr. “He said, ‘I want to play for coach Spurrier at (South Carolina). Is there any chance I can do that?’”
Orth has that chance this week, and perhaps longer, with Mitch out from four-to-six weeks with a separated right, throwing shoulder.
Orth, from Ponte Vedra, Florida, had a handful of offers to play at NCAA Division II programs. He wanted more and sought out the Gamecocks. The junior arrived in January 2013 with little hope of anything more than the chance to throw a few passes at spring practice, which was fine with Orth.
“When coach Spurrier Jr. gave me the option of walking on, I said I was going to come up work as hard as I possibly can and see what happens,” Orth said. “That was my mindset.”
He has continued that throughout his stay. Orth waited and learned behind Connor Shaw in 2013 and Dylan Thompson in 2014, both on NFL rosters, comfortable playing on the scout team or standing on the sidelines watching others perform. He came into this season have completed just one pass in three college attempts, both in mop up duties against FCS opponents Coastal Carolina and Furman.
He worked at a Publix not far from campus to make extra money with his family paying for college and hoping for to increase his role on the field.
And there was Orth in the mix all summer long as he competed against scholarship quarterbacks Mitch, Michael Scarnecchia and Lorenzo Nunez, a four-way battle that ended little more than week before the opener with North Carolina. Orth’s opportunity to play came last weekend when Mitch left in the second quarter with a separated shoulder.
An offense stuck in the mud the first 30 minutes took flight with Orth behind center. He led four scoring drives, going 13 of 20 for 179 yards with a touchdown. But Orth’s fairy-tale comeback moment ended with a late fourth-quarter interception as South Carolina was driving for the go-ahead touchdown.
Orth blamed himself for the error and vowed to improve.
“Yeah, Saturday was a tough one, but I think we’re doing a good job putting that in the past,” Orth said. “Everyone is excited about the next opportunity.”
That comes Between The Hedges against the Bulldogs, who have lost four of the past five games overall to South Carolina.
Georgia linebacker Jordan Jenkins is wary of South Carolina.
“Because with the size of the linemen they have and the things they do on offense you really can never rule them out,” he said.
Orth has prepared this week for another strong offensive performance by South Carolina against Georgia.
“Whatever coach is wanting to do with the game on Saturday, I feel like this is my third season in the offense now and I know what they expect from me,” Orth said. “Whatever they need of me and our offense to do to win the game, and that’s what we’re going to focus on doing.”
Spurrier, who put Orth on scholarship this summer, liked how the junior has handled himself since being named starter.
Not that he expected anything different than the past few years, Spurrier said.
“He’s a mature young man, and he throws a nice pass as you can see,” Spurrier said. “Makes his steps and he can throw a beautiful pass and he’s been here, what three years now? Earned a scholarship this season. If we can protect him and keep our guys open, he’s very capable.”