From the field to the (elementary) classroom in Sumter

Former USC football players promote their book, reading

BY BRUCE MILLS
bruce@theitem.com
Posted 3/14/18

Langston Moore and Preston Thorne said when they played football at University of South Carolina in the early 2000s, they set out to change the culture of the Gamecocks' program. They achieved that by turning a losing program into a winner on the …

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From the field to the (elementary) classroom in Sumter

Former USC football players promote their book, reading

Former Gamecock football player Langston Moore poses for a picture with a Willow Drive Elementary School student Friday with his book #JustaChicken. He wrote the motivational book with former USC teammate Preston Thorne.
Former Gamecock football player Langston Moore poses for a picture with a Willow Drive Elementary School student Friday with his book #JustaChicken. He wrote the motivational book with former USC teammate Preston Thorne.
MICAH GREEN / THE SUMTER ITEM
Posted

Langston Moore and Preston Thorne said when they played football at University of South Carolina in the early 2000s, they set out to change the culture of the Gamecocks' program. They achieved that by turning a losing program into a winner on the gridiron.

Now, the duo is trying to change the reading and literacy culture in the state.

Moore and Thorne spoke Friday during their "Reading is Power" tour visit to Willow Drive Elementary School in Sumter School District, where they shared the story of the book they co-authored a few years ago, #JustaChicken.

In the Gamecocks' early years in the Southeastern Conference, many said USC's football program didn't belong in the mighty SEC, which includes historical college powerhouse teams such as the Georgia Bulldogs, Florida Gators, Tennessee Volunteers and Alabama Crimson Tide.

Under the tutelage of legendary coach Lou Holtz, who took over the program in 1999, Moore and Thorne - who both played on the defensive line - were instrumental in helping the Gamecocks turn the corner and win consecutive bowl games in 2001 and 2002.

In those early turnaround years for the Gamecocks, Moore and Thorne said Coach Holtz emphasized "the culture you're around dictates who you will become."

Thorne said Holtz inspired the players, and, through that, inspired the book.

According to Thorne, Holtz would often tell the team an old story of an eagle that hung out with a bunch of chickens. When the eagle grew up, it thought of itself as "I am just a chicken."

"It's a story that Coach Holtz used to tell us: The people you hang around with, and the culture that you are around, a lot of times that dictates who you will end up being," Thorne said. "Coach Holtz always talked about changing the culture and what we expected of ourselves at the time. He was really huge on changing the culture of that, and it's amazing to see where the program is now. It's a testament to a lot of the groundwork that the players laid down back then."

Similarly, #JustaChicken is Cocky's - USC's mascot's - coming-of-age story. In the book, Cocky initially thinks he doesn't measure up to his barnyard friends, which bear a resemblance to mascots at the other SEC schools. There are a couple of bulldogs, tigers, wildcats, an alligator and an eagle, among others.

However, by the end of the story, Cocky realizes his own value.

"The big lesson for Cocky is the idea of not comparing yourself to other people and to make sure you recognize your own individual talents and unique abilities," Thorne said.

Since the book was published in June 2015, Thorne and Moore now travel the state and talk to elementary school students about the importance of literacy.

The duo emphasize to kids to find the things they like to do, then read and write about them.

"Our work is to build on what Coach Holtz did for us and to now change the literacy culture in the state," Thorne said. "And to help kids understand that reading is going to be their key to being successful in life."

Moore said he describes to kids that reading is a skill to develop, just like dribbling a basketball.

The former Gamecocks said they adapt their presentations to whatever a school would like for them to do, and they try to reinforce what the schools are already doing.

On Friday at Willow Drive, after a morning presentation in front of all the students, Moore and Thorne talked with boys at the school in small groups about the importance of not having their identity attached to football or other sports.

Both Moore and Thorne suffered injuries in their football careers and impressed on the kids what they can do for a career in sports, even if they're not actually playing the sport. The duo discussed jobs such as a physical trainer, uniform designer, commentator, referee, equipment manager and statistician, among others.

It's all about considering "your next play in life," Moore said.

School Media Specialist Denise Robinson said she hoped the visit will help inspire students to become better readers and writers. She said she thinks it was a good connection for the kids.

Fifth-grader Kam Miller said he enjoyed the day with the two former Gamecocks and said their book was interesting - not boring.

Classmate Nicolas Woods agreed that Moore and Thorne brought energy on their tour visit. He was also impressed with all the careers that the former Gamecocks discussed, but the 11-year-old isn't quite ready to make a career decision.

"Not at the moment," Woods said, "because there are just way too many jobs to choose from."