COLUMBIA -- One of South Carolina's top high school football players says that deciding to play for Tennessee instead of the Gamecocks cost him his job at a hunting preserve.
Lineman Terriea Smalls told a Columbia newspaper for a story Tuesday that the day after he verbally committed to Tennessee, the owner of the Spring Grove Hunting Preserve told him not to come back.
Preserve owner David Shealy acknowledged telling Smalls "not to come around anymore," but he said the player was not on the payroll, though he did get paid occasionally for odd jobs. The timing was a coincidence, Shealy said.
Smalls, who played for Timberland High School, committed to Tennessee on Jan. 20. He said that Shealy, who Smalls called "a father figure," told him the next day not to come back to work at the hunting preserve in St. Stephen, a Berkeley County town about 40 miles north of Charleston.
"I was shocked. That really hurt because we grew close together," Smalls said. "I had a decision to make; the decision didn't go his way. He said he'd like to see me go to Carolina, but that he'd support me anywhere I went."
The 6-foot-5, 310-pound lineman signed with the Vols on Feb. 3, the first day recruits could sign national letters of intent.
Shealy did not attend South Carolina and said he had no ties to the school other than two hunting trips with former coach Brad Scott. He does not call himself a Gamecock fan and said he had not been to a South Carolina football game since he worked traffic control around Williams-Brice Stadium as a state trooper in 1989.
"Tennessee had nothing to do with it," Shealy said.
"We're very busy here and the weekends are our busiest time. It seemed like Terriea was gone every weekend, taking recruiting trips or whatever. He couldn't show up. I just told him business is business; I've done all I can for him."
Shealy said that he did not put Smalls on the payroll, but would give him cash gifts -- $50 for a date, for instance, or $50 to go to the beach with Shealy's son Jonathon. "I treated Terriea just like a member of the family," Shealy said.
He also said he paid for Smalls' tutors, his SAT exam and repairs on his car.
"I put money in his pocket," the hunting preserve owner said. "But work? No, he didn't work here."
Smalls said he felt a lot of pressure to stay in the state and sign with South Carolina, where former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz has taken over the head coaching job.
"A lot of people told me that by going out of state, I was turning my back on South Carolina and that I wasn't being fair to the new coaching staff," Smalls said.
"All I can do is look at it as a learning experience and use it as incentive for when I get to Tennessee. It's an awkward situation right now," Smalls said. "I wish I wasn't in it. But I've got to stick to my guns."