TAMPA, Fla. - In December 1998, days after he accepted the task of reversing South Carolina's pitiful football fortunes, Lou Holtz received a phone call.
A doctor from Ohio was on the other end, hyperventilating about some kid named Ryan Brewer. The doctor, Holtz recalled recently, mentioned that Brewer was 6-foot-4 and 242 pounds.
"It turns out he's 5-8 and 205 pounds or something," Holtz said.
As it turns out, there's little need to exaggerate Brewer's height (5-10), his weight (215) or his abilities. Three years since Holtz took a gamble by signing the native of Troy, Ohio, Brewer has proved he can do some remarkable things despite his unremarkable stature.
"Ryan is a competitor," said Gamecocks offensive coordinator Skip Holtz, Lou Holtz's son. "He's a warrior, he's a player, he's a throwback, he's tough, he's hard-nosed. You don't need to tell him when it's game time."
Come Tuesday's Outback Bowl (11 a.m., ESPN), you won't need to brief Ohio State on the capabilities of little No. 21. It will mark the one-year anniversary of the day Brewer left tire tracks all over the Buckeyes in South Carolina's 24-7 upset victory.
"We know he's a marked man right now after what he did to them last year," said South Carolina center Larrell Johnson.
Back in 1998, Brewer was a forgotten man. He was named Mr. Football in Ohio but Mr. Unknown to decorated programs such as Michigan, Notre Dame and Ohio State.
The lack of interest from the Buckeyes hurt the most.
"That's my hometown school," Brewer said. "I grew up there. I watched them. I wore the Buckeyes uniform and everything."
So Brewer turned his attention to South Carolina, where Lou Holtz had taken over a team that tumbled into a 1-10 sinkhole in 1998. Brewer knew about the 64-year-old's accomplishments at Notre Dame, and he remembered watching Holtz's motivational video, Do Right, in seventh grade.
The book on Brewer was that he was too small to play for the Wolverines, Irish or Buckeyes, and Holtz said South Carolina's assistant coaches "weren't that impressed" after watching film of Brewer's senior season.
Holtz wasn't as turned off - "I liked his conversation, and I liked him on film," he said - so he offered Brewer a scholarship.
"Then I called one of these recruiting gurus and said, 'Can Ryan Brewer play?"' Holtz said. "He said he couldn't play a dead Indian in a Western movie. But that sucker's a winner."
Brewer sucker-punched the Buckeyes last season by rushing for 109 yards and two touchdowns. He also snared three passes, one for another touchdown, in amassing 214 all-purpose yards and MVP honors.
This season, Brewer played receiver and hauled in 35 receptions for 335 yards and two touchdowns. Holtz went so far to say that Brewer, a junior, has enough talent to earn a spot in the NFL.
"There's got to be a place for a guy like him because he runs good routes, he'll get open, he'll catch the ball," he said.
As for Tuesday's rematch, the assumption is that Brewer has nothing left to prove. But the 21-year-old said the chip on his shoulder pads remains.
It's still Ohio State, after all.
"Everyone has been kind of teasing me, saying I'll be a marked man and that they will have my number," he said. "They can go ahead and do that if they want - put all their attention on me and break the other guys loose."
Said Skip Holtz: "You can't juice Ryan up for this game more than he is already going to be."
Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645.
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