Despite growing up in Georgia, just a few counties from the South Carolina state line, former Gamecocks receiving great Sterling Sharpe never visited Orangeburg, even in his many trips back and forth to Columbia.

That all changed on Thursday when Sharpe was guest speaker for the Orangeburg Touchdown Club at The Cinema.

The former first-round draft pick who made five Pro Bowls during his seven-year career with the Green Bay Packers had a message to share with the high school football players and community, school and business leaders in attendance.

"Since I first came to South Carolina in 1983, I have never visited Orangeburg until today, so thank you for inviting me," Sharpe said. "First and foremost, we need to do and we need to be better at communicating.

"Right now, the relationships we have between black people and white people are at an all-time low because we don't communicate. Nowhere in our Bible, King James or NIV, does it say I should match your anger with my anger. Nowhere does it say because you believe one thing that you're right or I'm wrong."

Sharpe pointed out that, in any situation in society, if one person or group is in the way of another person or group and is pushed, the likely result is a push back in return.

"That is counterproductive," Sharpe said. "If I communicate, use my words, I can ask him politely to move. We may have a conversation, which will make us both better people.

"I'm a firm believer that Sterling Sharpe did not go to the University of South Carolina to become this person, or go to the Green Bay Packers to become this person. I got this from home. I brought that to South Carolina, where I could communicate."

Sharpe -- regarded as the first quarterback to record 2,000 yards passing and 2,000 yards rushing in Georgia high school history -- recalled one conversation he says he will never forget from his five years in college and four years playing football for the Gamecocks.

"My second year (in Columbia), in 1984, I had ankle surgery and Coach (Joe) Morrison wanted to redshirt me," Sharpe recalls. "He called me into his office and said you're going to have this surgery and you'll be good to go.

"He said, I just want you to know they are not going to let me play a black quarterback. He communicated with me. I didn't get angry. I didn't yell 'that's racist.' I didn't call a whole bunch of people to start a march. It wasn't about their life, it was about my life.

"He said you can play anywhere on our football team that you want. I told Coach Morrison, in so many words, I'm better than all of the receivers you have right now.' Because he communicated with me, I stayed at South Carolina for five years."

In his fourth season with the Gamecocks, his third season playing in college, Sharpe led the nation in receptions (74 for 1,106 yards) and touchdowns (10).

"After that (1986) season, my coach looked me in my eyes and said, 'I think you should stay for your senior season,'" Sharpe said. "That was the best decision that I ever made.

"I did, I was taught, we were raised to do your job better than anyone else does anything else. So everything I've ever tried to do, I've tried to do it better than anyone else does anything else. So what we need to do as a community, both black and white, is communicate better. When we talk about race, someone gets angry. We need to learn how to communicate."

As someone whose grandparents nor parents ever saw him play high school or college football in person, Sharpe had some words to share directly with young football players.

"It is very important to be able to look into those stands and see someone who knows you better than anyone else in the stadium," Sharpe said. "If you think you are growing up now and you feel alone now, it gets worse. You will need to lean on those things you learned from family, guardians or your high school coaches.

"Football, or athletics in general, will teach you absolutely nothing about life. But we will learn a lot about your life by the way you play football. You may win trophies and awards from your play, but the only trophy that your parents ever get is the ability to say 'that's my son, and I am proud of him.'"

While speaking to future leaders, Sharpe admits he has paid close attention to what has impacted American society in recent years.

"When you look at what's going on with the protest in the National Football League, everybody goes 'you're on one side or the other, they're disrespecting the flag and America,'" Sharpe said. "Not one person stops to go 'why in the world are they doing it'?

"I've been asked (so many) times, 'if you were playing in the NFL, what would you do.' I said this, because Colin Kaepernick started this campaign to bring awareness to the things that are happening to people who look like me, I have no choice but to support him. But if he had communicated his intentions better from the start, we and this movement would be a lot farther along."

Sharpe said that he believes the two best things to happen to our country recently have been the protests and Donald Trump.

"You may not like what they are doing, but you need to find out why they are doing it," Sharpe said. "It may not change what you believe or how you see things, but you will understand what is going on without putting your own uninformed spin on it.

"Nowhere in the Bible that I read does it say that just because you don't like your leader you don't respect or support your leader. What Donald Trump has forced us to do, the ones of us who pay attention, is to look at ourselves. If I clean up around my door and you clean up around your door, pretty soon we will have a very, very clean community." 

Many football fans see the fact that Sterling's younger brother, Shannon -- a standout tight end at Savannah State and with the Denver Broncos and Baltimore Ravens -- has been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame (in 2011), while Sterling hasn't. Most believe that health reasons from a spinal/neck birth condition that forced Sterling to retire from football in his prime kept him from becoming a hall-of-famer.

But Sharpe said he has no regrets and he always knew he would have a life after his playing days.

"It's not my fault it took Jerry Rice 20 years to accomplish what I did in seven seasons," Sharpe said. "If you have time, take my seven years, and then take all of the receivers in the hall of fame and put their best seven years up against mine, and see how we rank then.

"Jerry Rice and Tim Brown are in front of me, but there's not anyone else. Leaving the NFL was easy. I had no idea what I was going to do, but because I was prepared with a college degree, ESPN fell in my lap. I did ESPN for eight years, helped start Football Night In America at NBC, and then I helped start the NFL Network. If you do it correctly, you will always be prepared to quit and do the next thing."

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Also during Thursday's OTC meeting, two weeks worth of local ATI Physical Therapy Players of the Week were recognized, including Dorchester Academy's Lance Brownlee, Andrew Jackson Academy's Jordan Lee, Calhoun County's Sterlyn Evans and Bamberg-Ehrhardt's James Gainyard.

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