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Keeping the Family Together : Rabunes Go to Great Lengths--South Carolina--to Be Team

Times Staff Writer

Every time Rick and Ron Rabune try to tell people back home about the football program they are involved in, they run into problems.

USC? People can think only of the Trojans.

Carolina? North Carolina comes more often to mind.

This season, there’s a short cut. They can tell them it’s South Carolina--alternately known as USC and Carolina--and to tune in the Gator Bowl today, when the ninth-ranked Gamecocks will play seventh-ranked Louisiana State at Jacksonville, Fla.

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The Rabunes played offense and defense at Kennedy High School. Ron, who was a three-sport star and quarterback, is a free safety for the Gamecocks. Rick, who played at Cerritos College before he finished his career as a defensive back at South Carolina, is a graduate assistant coach for the team.

They both will be on hand today as South Carolina (8-3) tries for its first bowl-game victory. The Gamecocks are 0-6 in bowls and are 0-3 in the Gator Bowl.

A year ago, South Carolina had a dismal 3-6-2 season. But this season, the Gamecocks turned things around, losing only to Georgia, Nebraska and Miami.

Ron, a junior in eligibility, played behind his roommate, Brad Edwards, who had a lock on the free safety job. Edwards, a senior, led the team in tackles with 120. Rabune finished with 28 tackles and caused 2 fumbles.

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Ron’s days as a quarterback ended a couple of years ago. With sophomore Todd Ellis in the picture, they almost certainly are over for good. Ellis passed for 2,902 yards this season.

Just how the Rabunes ended up at South Carolina is fairly simple. A Utah assistant coach who was recruiting Rick took a job at South Carolina--presto, another offer.

Rick went to Columbia, where the university is located, and took a look at the Gamecocks’ Williams-Brice Stadium, which dominates a portion of the city’s skyline and has held crowds of more than 75,000. That about decided it. Ron simply followed his brother.

It was a decided change from Southern California. Friends at home figured Columbia was just a Hicksville. Rick’s new teammates took a look at his splashy Bermuda shorts and small ponytail and shook their heads. Other Californians came into the program, but Rick said most ended up unhappy. By 1984, Rick’s final year, his brother had joined him.

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“Ron and I stayed,” Rick said. “One reason was we had each other.”

They nearly fulfilled a long-held desire to play together on the same unit on a college team. The closest they came was in Ron’s first season, a redshirt year in which he played scout-team quarterback. Rick, a defensive back, intercepted a few of his passes.

“We always wanted to play together,” Rick said. “We always kind of wanted to share time in the same backfield some time.”

Although they both figure they will leave South Carolina--probably to return to California at some point--they have been happy there, particularly being in the center of one of only two major-college teams in the state. Clemson, the other, is the biggest rival.

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Still Rick’s biggest thrill came in 1983, his first year at South Carolina, when the USC he grew up with in Southern California came to Columbia, and the Gamecocks beat the Trojans, 38-14.

“Beating them was the highlight of my life,” he said.

But the Rabunes think they have found their own highlight, far from any thoughts of the Rose Bowl.

“I tell you what, football out here is a little bit different,” Ron said. “People around here just really get into it.”

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