University of Miami

Former Gamecock rooting for son, UM in Independence Bowl

Special Teams MVP: Sophomore Justin Vogel was a semifinalist for the Ray Guy Award.
Special Teams MVP: Sophomore Justin Vogel was a semifinalist for the Ray Guy Award.

A University of South Carolina sports fanatic recently sent Paul Vogel a 1984 football card to sign and send back.

“I was like, ‘Really?’ said Vogel’s wife, Susan. ‘“You played, like, 30 years ago. It’s time to move on.’ ’’

Actually, it’s time to start talking smack — but for once, not about those Gamecocks, for whom Paul Vogel dominated in the early 1980s as a middle linebacker whose 164 tackles in 1984 ranks fourth all-time at South Carolina.

“Carolina fans are the best, most-hospitable people in the world,’’ Vogel said. “But this game I’m rooting for the Miami Hurricanes — and my son.’’

Vogel’s son, Justin, is a walk-on who was named one of the 10 best punters in the nation as a semifinalist for the Ray Guy Award, won last week by Tom Hackett of Utah. Justin and his father couldn’t believe it when they learned Miami would face South Carolina in the Duck Commander Independence Bowl at 3:30 p.m. Dec. 27 in Shreveport, Louisiana.

“How cool is that?’’ Justin told the Miami Herald on Tuesday. “I grew up hearing South Carolina stories. People still recognize my dad there. Pretty neat.’’

Paul Vogel, a 53-year-old financial advisor who lives outside Tampa with his wife and Justin’s younger brother, Tyler, in Odessa, Florida, was a senior for the 1984 South Carolina team that finished 10-2 and was ranked No. 2 in the nation before being upset by Navy. He had 24 tackles and an interception in the Gamecocks’ 36-32 win over Notre Dame that season.

“That’s the game everyone always talks about,’’ Justin, 21, said. “He was an animal that day.’’

Fans dubbed that defense “the fire ants’’ because they wore all black and swarmed opponents.

Paul Vogel signed as a free agent with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1985 and later played sparingly for Houston during the NFL strike in 1987. He grew up in Greenville, South Carolina, but will trade his dilapidated white cap with the garnet-colored “Cocks’’ on the front for his new, green cap with “Canes’’ on it.

“I’m wearing a green shirt, too,’’ Vogel said. “I’ll wave my cap in the air so Justin knows where I’m at. I love watching him in pregame because I know exactly how he’ll do.’’

Chances are he’ll do well. The Hurricanes (6-6, 3-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) rank 10th nationally in net punting with a 41.1-yard average. Vogel’s 43.7-yard average is 22nd nationally and second in the ACC. Of his 49 punts, 18 were fair caught and 21 landed inside the 20-yard line.

He also has five unassisted tackles, naturally making dad proud.

The Gamecocks (6-6, 3-5 Southeastern Conference) rank 102nd nationally in punt returns.

“He just won the Special Teams MVP award, if that gives you an indication of how he did this season,’’ UM coach Al Golden said of Vogel, who replaced All-American Pat O’Donnell, now with the Chicago Bears. “He came in with a great attitude and exceeded our expectations at a time we really needed him.

“I’m sure he’s excited about playing his dad’s alma mater, and I’m sure his dad is breaking his chops a little bit.’’

Make that dad and mom.

Justin, a 6-4, 210-pound sophomore, transferred to Miami this season from Florida, where he was a walk-on for two seasons but never played. His mother, Susan, graduated from UF, works as a pharmacist for Johnson & Johnson and is a diehard Gators fan. She’s a former classical ballerina for the Florida Ballet Theatre and former Tampa Bay Buccaneers cheerleader who schooled her son to be a Gator — before he fell in love with Miami.

At Berkeley Prep in Tampa, Justin played safety, receiver and special teams. He also lettered in soccer and volleyball — and traveled with the USA Volleyball’s Olympic development team to play beach volleyball in Russia the summer before his senior year.

“He just needed someone to believe in him, and quite frankly, Coach Golden did that,’’ said Susan Vogel, who said her family makes sacrifices to pay UM’s steep tuition. “Justin doesn’t talk much, but he tells me all the time, ‘Mom, this is where I was meant to be.’ He loves everything about UM. The only goal he hasn’t met yet is earning a scholarship. If he gets one it will be the best day of my life.’’

Justin, an accomplished student, is studying to one day be a nurse anesthetist, though he dreams of playing in the NFL.

For now, it’s all about beating the Gamecocks.

“A victory would get us back in the groove,’’ Justin said.

And what about his father?

“He can’t lose,’’ he said.

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