For the last three games, South Carolina junior wide receiver Xavier Legette has played with open wounds on his body. He’s wrapped them up before every game, keeping them covered and as clean as possible. Sometimes, in the course of a game, he’s had to rewrap them.
Three weeks ago, Legette injured himself in a motorcycle accident, causing him to miss two games and valuable practice time. Even when he was healthy, the overwhelming majority of Legette’s playing time came on special teams. Before Saturday night against Vanderbilt, Legette had yet to catch a pass this season.
None of that mattered — the wounds, the lack of practice, the lack of playing time — in the final seconds of South Carolina’s topsy-turvy 21-20 win over Vanderbilt. Down late against a Commodores team that typically dwells in the SEC cellar, the Gamecocks desperately needed someone — anyone — to make a play.
Quarterback Zeb Noland will no doubt be remembered as a USC hero for entering the game for Luke Doty with 1:36 to play and leading a game-winning drive. But once Noland reached the red zone, it was Legette he set his sights on.
On the Vanderbilt 9-yard-line, the 24-year-old quarterback targeted Legette twice, missing on the first attempt. But on the second, Legette separated from the Vanderbilt secondary, found room in the back of the end zone and came down with a catch that sent the homecoming Williams-Brice Stadium crowd into a frenzy.
“Xavier, we call him Xay, he works hard every single day,” Noland said after the game. “Actually the play that we scored on, I threw a touchdown to him in practice one day on the same exact thing, it just came from the other side. He just comes to work. His injury doesn’t bother him. He’s ready to go always.”
For Legette, that touchdown was a long time coming. A lightly recruited receiver out of Mullins that Will Muschamp’s staff signed, Legette had only caught one other touchdown in his career — coincidentally against Vanderbilt in 2019.
Last year, Legette opened as a starter but struggled with drops and made just seven receptions for 113 yards all season. At 6-foot-1 and 217 pounds, the receiver brings an element of size and physicality lacking from the rest of the room, outside of 6-7 receiver E.J. Jenkins.
“I was very excited,” Legette said of Saturday’s catch. “I hadn’t had a moment like that since my freshman year, so I wanted to take full advantage of it.
“I have been dealing with a lot of injuries, and two or three weeks ago I got in an accident that took me away from football for a couple of weeks. But tonight I really enjoyed it.”
A man of few words, Legette didn’t elaborate on the details of his motorcycle accident or the severity of his injuries, but he certainly didn’t seem hampered by them on the field. With starting receiver Jalen Brooks missing the game due to undisclosed personal reasons, Legette learned Friday night that he’d be getting the chance to start at receiver, and he responded with four catches for 31 yards and a game-winning score.
“X is a good player,” head coach Shane Beamer said. “I’ve said it since the day I got here, to be a receiver and have his size and his physicality and strong hands, he’s a guy we like.
“Proud of him and the way he played today to step in and have four catches for 31 yards and a touchdown. That was huge.”