COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -South Carolina linebacker Jasper Brinkley's dark cast covered his right leg. Two silver crutches leaned nearby, glinting under the sunshine at Williams-Brice Stadium. Instead of lifting weights or watching film, South Carolina's star defender ate lunch as he sat, well-wishers coming by to check on his injury.
Brinkley damaged a knee ligament against No. 1 LSU on Sept. 22 and needed surgery a few days later, ending his senior season.
It's been a long process for Brinkley, unquestionably the seventh-ranked Gamecocks most essential defensive player. But he vows to get through it, no matter how long the recovery takes.
``I've never had to miss a whole season nor sit out a game,'' Brinkley said. ``But it's something you have to deal with.''
Life brings different circumstances for everyone, Brinkley said, ``so you just have to deal with the hand you're dealt.''
Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier is hopeful the NCAA will grant a medical waiver allowing Brinkley one more season. If it does, Brinkley guaranteed he'll be back at South Carolina.
``Yeah, I'm pretty positive I'm coming back,'' he said. ``No, no NFL.''
Brinkley, who led the Gamecocks with a 107 tackles last year, had the opportunity to enter the NFL draft this past spring. However, he wanted to play his senior year along his twin brother Casper, a Gamecocks defensive end, with the goal of bringing unprecedented success to South Carolina.
And Jasper Brinkley gained attention. He was part of the preseason all-Southeastern Conference team and on watch lists for national defensive prizes, the Lombardi and Butkus awards.
He showed his skills in the Gamecocks' 16-12 victory at Georgia last month with a clinching interception on the Bulldogs' last drive.
But Brinkley battled a high ankle sprain the first three games and felt less effective than in the past.
``I kind of feel like my stocks were hurt this year anyway,'' Brinkley said. ``I wasn't 100 percent. I was always hurt.''
Brinkley didn't think his knee was that badly hurt. He tried to go back into the Gamecocks' 28-16 loss at LSU before coming to the sidelines for good.
When he found out the seriousness of the injury, Brinkley's spirits were down. He spoke with his mother and some of the coaches.
``They just told me to keep my head up,'' he said.
So that's what Brinkley's trying to do. Right now, he's concentrating on school work and rehabbing the knee.
Defensive lineman Marquee Hall missed all but two games last year because of a left knee injury. He counseled Brinkley to stick to his rehab and believe the knee strength will return.
``That's how you're going to get better,'' he said.
The most difficult part so far for Brinkley has been going by practice and watching it take place without him.
``It kind of eats me up on the inside,'' he said.
Brinkley has kept that part away from the players as best he can. He maintains contact and keeps them pumped up about their start. Halfway through the season, the Gamecocks are 5-1 and in first place in the SEC Eastern Division. LSU is the only higher-ranked SEC team.
``I'm very proud of those guys,'' Brinkley says. ``Everybody, not just one or two guys, everybody came together as a team and rallied.''
When the serious nature of Brinkley's injury was revealed last month, Spurrier speculated that ``next year at this time, we might be saying, 'We're glad he got hurt.' We all plan to be here next year. We should definitely have a stronger team next year. In a way, having Jasper here next year is a positive.''
Brinkley tries each day to share his coach's vision, about a day when there's no cast and the sun shines off his South Carolina helmet instead of his crutches.
He's disappointed that won't be until next year.
``But like I said, everything happens for a reason,'' Brinkley said.

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