South Carolina Football’s GOAT Series: Top-15 greatest safeties of all-time

Former South Carolina football alum Devonte Holloman was a crucial piece of some of the best team's in school history. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
Former South Carolina football alum Devonte Holloman was a crucial piece of some of the best team's in school history. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports /
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Safeties are some of the most versatile players on a team’s defense, and South Carolina football has had some studs on the back end. Some Gamecock safeties excelled in defending against the pass, some were hard hitters in the run game, and some could do it all. At various times in South Carolina’s history, positions like spur, apache, and rover were used as hybrid linebackers/safeties, but they most closely resembled safeties and will be treated as such for this list.

Honorable Mentions

Brison Williams: A solid player on some of the most successful Carolina teams of all-time, Brison Williams (2011-2014) was in the shadow of fellow safeties DJ Swearinger, Devonte Holloman, and Antonio Allen early in his career but went on to a very solid career. His most famous moment in garnet and black came against Clemson in 2013 when he was the only player on the defense who properly diagnosed a double-pass and picked off said double-pass in the endzone to stop the Tigers from scoring on their opening drive, setting the tone for the Carolina victory.

Willie Offord: Willie Offord (1997-2001) bounced around between both safety spots, outside linebacker, and spur during his career. No matter where he lined up, he was a threat to knock his opponents’ teeth loose. A big hitter who played in some stacked secondaries with the Gamecocks, Offord finished his career with an All-SEC campaign in 2001 before beginning a four-year NFL career. He is now in coaching.

DJ Smith: If a kamikaze plane could be a safety, it would be DJ Smith (2014-2017). Smith was known for throwing his body around to make plays. He wasn’t big (5’11”, 195 pounds), but he was a fierce hitter and seemed to have no regard for human life—his own or his opponents’. A consummate teammate, Smith was a valued special teams contributor throughout his career, especially on the kick coverage units.

Bill Currier: A three-year starter at safety, Bill Currier (1973-1976) was a big safety who was a sure tackler. With two seasons of 100+ tackles as a junior and senior, it comes as no surprise that Currier was voted as a team captain and the team’s MVP in 1976. He went on to the NFL where he had a nine-year career.

Chris Culliver: Chris Culliver (2007-2010) was one of the highest-rated recruits to ever play at South Carolina. He was a good player, but injuries and positional changes held him back. Culliver played games at wide receiver, cornerback, nickel, and safety during his Gamecock career and was the primary kick returner anytime he was healthy. His senior season of 2010 saw Culliver selected as an All-SEC performer for his efforts at both safety and corner, despite missing some time with injury. He had a seven-year NFL career that included a start at corner in the Super Bowl.

Ron Rabune: A secondary mate of his brother Rick for part of his career, Ron Rabune (1984-1988) was the better player of the siblings. Ran Rabune didn’t see the field much outside of rotational duty until his senior year, but he was utterly dominant that season. In 1988, Rabune racked up 115 tackles and recovered three fumbles on his way to All-South Independent honors.

Joe Brooks: Joe Brooks (1983-1985) was one of two Gamecock safeties selected to the All-South Independent team in 1984 as part of the “Fire Ant” defense. Matching the year, Brooks had 84 tackles that season and also pulled down three interceptions, including a crucial pick that may have saved the game against #11 Florida State, keeping the Gamecocks’ record perfect.

Antione Nesmith: An underappreciated player, Antione Nesmith (1998-2001) began his career as a running back/fullback hybrid but moved to defense as he was behind some very talented backs on the depth chart. The move paid off for him and for the Gamecocks as Nesmith became the starter at the safety spot next to Rashad Faison. His most memorable moment as a Gamecock came in the 2001 victory over Alabama in which he blew up a Crimson Tide option play in the fourth quarter that stopped ‘Bama and gave the ball back to USC for the winning score.

Rod Wilson: Rod Wilson (2000-2004) was a quarterback turned receiver turned safety. It took several years at Carolina before he and the coaching staff both came to the realization he belonged on defense, but in 2003, Wilson became the starter. Injuries derailed that season, but he was a stud in 2004. The All-SEC safety was drafted by the Chicago Bears and had a six-year NFL career. He has since gotten into coaching (including one year on staff with the Gamecocks) and has won two Super Bowl rings with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Wally Orrell: Wally Orrell (1966-1968) was the safety counterpart to cornerback legends Bobby Bryant and Pat Watson. A smart player who was known for always being where he was supposed to be, Orrell was also incredibly consistent as evidenced by his 72 tackles in both his healthy seasons of 1966 and 1968. His 13 tackles against Tennessee in 1966 are the most ever in a Gamecock’s first start. After his senior season of 1968, the team captain was selected as an All-ACC performer.

Pat Bowen: A four-year starter and fan favorite, Pat Bowen (1978-1982) was one of the most consistent safeties to play at South Carolina. His 12 interceptions rank in the top-5 for all Gamecocks, and his 228 tackles were pretty evenly distributed across his four seasons. Bowen was also the owner of one of the best mustaches in the history of the program.

Tyler Hellams: Tyler Hellams (1967-1971) was one of the best coverage safeties to play at Carolina. His 13 interceptions are third all-time only behind Skai Moore and Bo Davies. Hellams also recorded all of his interceptions in three seasons as his 1969 campaign was cut short due to injury. He began his career as a corner but shifted over to safety as Wally Orrell graduated, and the Gamecocks were better for it as he earned All-ACC honors at his new position.

DeAndre Eiland: A three-year starter at safety before moving to corner as a senior, DeAndre Eiland (2000-2003) was a Freshman All-American in 2000. He had a very productive four-year career in garnet and black before being drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in 2004. He went on to a three-year NFL career as a safety.