Ray Tanner has earned legendary status as the head coach of the two-time defending NCAA Division I College World Series champion University of South Carolina baseball team.
Those in attendance Monday at The Cinema to hear him speak at the 10th annual Orangeburg Touchdown Club banquet also learned of his past football exploits. While pointing to a fan who attended Clayton High School in North Carolina, Tanner told the story about how he single-handedly led his alma mater South Johnson to a 17-14 victory over the archrival school.
"Ray Tanner scored 17 points," he said. "And that is the truth. I caught two touchdown passes from my slot back position, I kicked two extra points and I kicked a field goal."
It was the high point of Tanner's football career, though he still remains a fan of the game. In fact, prior to the Gamecock football team's season-opener this past season against East Carolina, Tanner was asked by head coach Steve Spurrier to address the players.
"I shared some things with how I run my program and I told those guys that day, I said you're going to be good," he said. "You're going to have a good year. You've got some good players in here. You're going to be very successful. But I don't know if you're going to be great. And boy, I could tell they were looking at me and I thought (defensive lineman) Jadeveon (Clowney) was going to try to knock me off the block. I was trying to get them a little bit agitated and I did.
"Then I said to them ‘Let me tell you what it takes to be have an opportunity to be great.' You're going to be good. You're going to win games. But if you want to be great, things have to fall in place that I firmly believe in."
Those things - the ability to overcome adversity and playing selfless - were areas Tanner believed the football team excelled in winning a school-record 11 games and the school's fifth bowl game. It's also what's served to fuel his program's back-to-back national titles and why S.C. State head football coach Buddy Pough predicted a third straight title this season.
For all of Tanner's success, he acknowledged almost "burning out" of the baseball profession early in his tenure at North Carolina State. Fortunately for Tanner, his wife, Karen, showed him a way to find fulfillment in life outside of sports. His charitable foundation was the answer.
Tanner challenged the student-athletes in attendance to also get "involved" and emphasized his points by reading two quotes from 1957 from the late Martin Luther King Jr. Both pertained to community service and continuing the legacy of the predecessors who made it possible to enjoy the opportunities of today.
"I encourage you as you go forward in life - maybe some of you will get an opportunity to continue to play this sport for years to come - that irregardless, take your talents to your community," Tanner said. "Reach out and help others. You're already leaders. You're already empowered. Use your strength to make an impact in your community. It will probably be the single most important thing you do in your entire life."
Following Tanner's speech, South Carolina State announced its team awards and the OTC presented 18 of the 30 players named to the All-State Football Championship Subdivision/Division II team. Earlier in the evening, Orangeburg-Wilkinson senior Charles Schultz II was named the Brent Lukens Award scholarship winner.
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