Stories abound in pro sports of how players cut all kinds of deals with teammates to secure a coveted set of digits — money, gifts, crazy wagers, naming rights to their first born.
There was none of that going on among the Jacksonville State players this year when it came time to pass out the new jerseys. The players simply — but not necessarily patiently — waited for the number they wanted to come open.
Most didn’t have to wait long, but any wait can be uncomfortable when it’s something you really want.
Nearly a dozen Gamecocks have switched uniform numbers from the previous season.
In most cases a veteran already had “their” number when they arrived and etiquette demanded they just wait their turn to get it.
Former Gamecocks quarterback Ryan Perrilloux didn’t wait — he snatched up 11 from Marques Ivory the minute he arrived.
Besides, how cool would a Perrilloux autograph not be without the “11” in the middle of it?
Junior receiver Gabe Chambers wore 82 last year, but he’ll be running routes in 6 this season.
That wasn’t necessarily his first choice, but he has come to embrace it.
“I wanted to wear 4, but (receiver) Telvin Brown has it,” Chambers said. “I’ve been wearing No. 4 since I was 4 playing little league football. I told some of my teammates I’ve done amazing things with No. 4, but I realized I had done so much with No. 4 in high school it was time to hang that jersey up.
“I wanted to do something with No. 6 and I told (defensive back) Kevyn Cooper last year I was going to get his number. I told him I looked better in his number. He was like, ‘OK, you can get it, but just make sure that you represent.’”
Talk about pressure to live up to a number’s reputation in the Gamecocks’ camp. Redshirt freshman receiver Dalton Screws swapped his 87 for 16, the number worn by current Houston Texans’ rookie Alan Bonner during his JSU days. Josh Barge was assigned 10 while he recovered a spring track injury last fall and now has the 12 that belonged to former quarterback Ivory.
Chambers said he had to “learn to live” with his new number, but he devised a theory to justify his choice.
“Last year it was an even number — 82,” he said. “Eight minus two is six, so that’s the way I looked at it.”
Sophomore running back Troymaine Pope had to wait until outside linebacker Nick Johnson graduated to get the number he really wanted — 24.
The Anniston product chased his goal of setting the JSU freshman rushing record last year wearing No. 20, but “didn’t really like it” and “couldn’t wait” to get into the number he wore in high school. He chose it because former Georgia and Denver Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno is his favorite player.
Now he has it 24/7, presumably for the next three seasons.
“I’m glad I have that number,” he said. “I was happy to get it back this spring. I feel more comfortable in it than I was in 20, just to get back to my old self when I was in high school. I feel like I play better (with it).”
No number is more recognizable or polarizing than No. 1. Some coaches are uncomfortable giving a player the first number and assign it reluctantly only to those they believe can emotionally handle it.
JSU coach Bill Clark doesn’t give it a second thought.
“It’s just another number to me,” he said.
No one talked to sophomore receiver Markis Merrill about its meaning when he went from 3 to 1 after Trey Smith graduated. They didn’t have to. He’s been wearing No. 1 all his life, wanted to “keep up the tradition” during his college career, and willingly accepts what comes with it.
“Really it’s just a target,” he said. “Everybody sees it as a target. If you’re going to be a 1, you have to be a standout.”
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.