COLUMBIA -- His wife is in the throes of a two-year battle with throat cancer. His son was hospitalized for an infection near his stomach last September. His mother died last Friday.
And, oh yeah, his team hasn't won a game this year.
Somehow, South Carolina coach Lou Holtz deals with it. The 62-year-old returned to practice Tuesday after the funeral of his mother, Anne Holtz, in East Liverpool, Ohio.
It was likely the same old Lou on the field, wound tighter than a No. 4 Titleist, screaming to the high heavens and grabbing face masks as if he were holding on for dear life.
Holtz's charges can tell you all about their coach's dedication and resolve during trying times such as these. Simply put, they're amazed.
"He's a tough guy, a tough individual," said linebacker Corey Atkins, whose Gamecocks (0-10, 0-8 SEC) close out the season Saturday by playing host to Clemson (12:30 p.m., JP). "He's been through a lot, but he's not flinching. He's still going, he's still coaching, he's still giving it all he's got. That gives us motivation to give all we've got."
Holtz's off-the-field problems began just before the season started. Skip Holtz, son of Lou and the Gamecocks' offensive coordinator and assistant head coach, suffered stomach pains in the days before the team's Sept. 4 opener at N.C. State. Breathing was difficult. Doctors discovered an infection of the tissue surrounding his organs, and Holtz spent several days in the hospital the following week.
A month later, Lou Holtz's wife underwent surgery to remove her adrenal gland. Beth Holtz, 60, has battled throat cancer for the past two years and spent the time after her surgery in Orlando, Fla.
Then last Friday, Holtz received news that his mother, 82-year-old Anne Holtz, died. He coached Saturday's 20-3 loss to Florida, after which he said "I don't know when I've been more involved in a football game than I was in this one."
He studied game film Saturday night, held team meetings Sunday, then was off for Ohio early Monday morning. Lou Holtz soldiers on.
"I don't care how old you are, that's your mother," senior tight end Trey Pennington said. "That's one of the biggest influences of your life. I don't care how old you are, it still hurts."
The difficulties make the disappointment of the Gamecocks' miserable season and 20-game losing streak seem somewhat secondary. And Saturday's tilt with those hated Tigers isn't such a life-or-death issue anymore.
"I'm looking forward to the privilege of playing in this game, but right now, my heart is with his mother dying," tight end Trevon Matthews said. He's shown me a lot. Everybody thinks they have it bad. You know you don't really have it bad when you see him take it like he's taking it."
The Gamecocks felt the fiery breath of Holtz on the back of their necks Tuesday for the first time since last week. And it likely wasn't such a bad thing, either.
"He's shown us how to handle adversity with his mother passing away," Pennington said. "Dealing with his wife, two of the closest people in the world to him have had a lot of trouble. Then, professionally, he comes here and things aren't working out. When you go through something like this and see him going through the things he's going through and keeps his head up, keeps fighting, keeps his goals alive and his dreams alive, and still be there every way he needs to be for the people who are depending on him, that's a life lesson."
Clemson (5-5) at South Carolina (0-10)
When: Saturday, 12:30 p.m. (JP)
Tigers' focus:If they hold South Carolina to somewhere near its average of 6.6 points per game, the Tigers win. Gamecocks haven't proved they can pass effectively, so Clemson should try to do what everyone else has done successfully: load up the box with eight men near the line of scrimmage and force South Carolina's receivers to beat it with the pass.
Gamecocks' focus:Tigers' run defense has been susceptible this season, and South Carolina ran the ball reasonably well last week against a stout Florida front. The only way to stop Clemson's offense is to keep it off the field, and Gamecocks' ball-control offense is somewhat capable of mounting sustained drives. But if South Carolina coughs up a few quick turnovers early, Clemson is going bowling.
Key matchup:Tigers QB Woody Dantzler vs. Gamecocks' linebackers. Dantzler is Clemson's second-leading rusher, and if South Carolina depends too much on pass coverage, he'll make it pay. Gamecocks have done reasonably well stopping running quarterbacks this season.
Injury update:Clemson -- QB Brandon Streeter (hip) is out. WR Brian Wofford (knee) is questionable. South Carolina -- RB Derek Watson (ankle), LB John Abraham (knee) are probable. Kerry Hood (thigh) and OL Kevin Johnson (ankle) are doubtful.
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