On any normal Sunday, Justin Caudill would be neck deep in golf equipment.
Caudill, a California native who moved to the Columbia area three years ago for family reasons, oversees the online ordering and curbside pickup at the Dick’s Sporting Goods store on Bower Parkway. An athletic trainer, equipment manager and collegiate golfer in his past life, his specialties at Dick’s reside in golf, team sports and fitness.
On Sunday, Caudill has ditched his green polo or Dri-fit employee shirt for a gray and garnet South Carolina long-sleeve T-shirt. Courtesy of a viral tweet, a response from first-year head coach Shane Beamer and a birthday present from a friend, Caudill stood on the concourse at Williams-Brice Stadium anxiously awaiting the annual Garnet and Black spring game as his friend ordered a Coors Light and Bud Light from the nearby beer vendor.
“I never, ever in my wildest dreams would have thought this would go viral,” Caudill said, his voice jumping with emphasis and excitement as he continued through his sentence. “Never. Ever.”
In his short time as South Carolina’s head coach, Beamer has made a conscious effort to connect with the fan base. There’s a politician-esque layer to the former Oklahoma receiver’s coach. He never shies away from a picture from fans. He’ll shake any hand he’s presented.
During his most recent appearance on Carolina Calls, a semi-regular radio show held at Home Team BBQ in Five Points, Beamer posed for a photo with nearly every fan in the building. From undergrads to alumni long past their college days, he took to it with a smile and enthusiasm.
Just last week, Beamer even joined South Carolina students inside Williams-Brice for a screening of the 1980’s flick “The Goonies” as an end-of-semester celebration before exams.
Caudill’s recent interaction with Beamer stemmed from a joke. He’d been gifted a ticket to the annual spring game by some friends. But after the game was moved from Saturday to Sunday because of weather, he wasn’t sure he’d be able to get off his shift at Dick’s. Half-joking, half-hoping for a miracle, he fired off a 254-character tweet at 5:52 p.m. Thursday wondering if Beamer could bail him out.
Thirty-two minutes later, Beamer did just that.
“Hey (Dick’s)…@JBlaineCaudill is excused from work Sunday,” he wrote, retweeting Caudill’s initial message. “We need him in Williams-Brice Stadium to support @GamecockFB.”
Within minutes, Caudill’s phone began buzzing. He can’t put a number on how many calls, texts and messages he’s received through varying social media platforms. A friend passed along an aggregation of the Twitter exchange written by a local newspaper. Saturday Down South followed suit Friday.
“It was just a joke,” Caudill conceded. “I never thought Shane Beamer was gonna do that, but that’s why I love it.”
Beamer has exuded confidence and a certain magnetism reminiscent of South Carolina coaches past since taking over in Columbia. He’s made a conscious effort to connect with fans in a way the more introverted Will Muschamp didn’t in his later years in charge. He’s not quite the loose cannon Steve Spurrier could be with a microphone, but every now and then Beamer has his moments.
Following Sunday’s spring game, Beamer made the rounds along the Williams-Brice fences where South Carolina fans clambered for just a brief moment of face time with their new head coach. For longer than most SEC coaches might linger, Beamer took his time.
He shook hands and traded stories. Caudill secured a selfie with the Gamecocks’ latest head ball coach.
“I can’t wait to see what Beamer brings,” Caudill said.
For what Beamer carries in charisma and charm, he’s not ignorant to — as he put it with reporters after the game — “the honeymoon phase.” South Carolina is still five months away from its season opener against Eastern Illinois. There are holes all over the field that need plugging, particularly in the secondary. Barring a near-perfect domino effect, the Gamecocks face a stiff task in reaching bowl eligibility in 2021.
For now, it’s all fun fanfare. Beamer, though, knows how feelings shift on a dime once games are played.
“We haven’t lost the game yet,” he said Sunday. “Everything’s great right now and there’s going to be bumps in the road. I know that. But where we are right now, it’s been fantastic.”