South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier has been searching for Ace Sanders for the last seven years.
Well, the Head Ball Coach hasn't really been looking for Sanders specifically, but he has been waiting for the kind of big-play capabilities on special teams that the sophomore provided last weekend against East Carolina.
Sanders' 68-yard punt return for a touchdown in last Saturday's season opener against East Carolina was the first kick return for a score in Spurrier's seven-year tenure at South Carolina.
"Yeah, we finally put one in the end zone," Spurrier said after the game. "We haven't done that very often around here."
Spurrier's No. 12 Gamecocks travel to Athens, Ga., to play the Georgia Bulldogs today at 4:30 p.m. on ESPN.
To put Sanders' touchdown into perspective, it was only the third kickoff or punt return for a touchdown by the Gamecocks since 2000. Chavez Donnings returned a punt 73 yards in 2003 against Florida and Matthew Thomas had a 95-yard kickoff return against Virginia in 2002.
It's been a long time coming for Spurrier, who has yearned for a return specialist since his arrival in Columbia in 2005. Chris Culliver and Captain Munnerlyn had their moments -- each had returns in the kicking game of more than 80 yards during their respective careers -- but could never put the ball in the end zone.
"It can change the momentum of the whole game," Spurrier said.
Spurrier has tried all different kinds of combinations and personnel in the return game. He had former sprinter Bryce Sherman returning kickoffs last year and has used All-SEC cornerback Stephon Gilmore on punt returns.
But nothing seemed to work.
"You see other teams breaking off big returns, so it's frustrating," Spurrier said. "You wonder why we can't do the same thing."
Enter special teams coach John Butler.
"Coach (Butler) preaches over and over in the special teams meetings about wanting to get some points on special teams," Sanders said. "He wanted it in the return game, too, something besides a blocked kick."
Spurrier believes that he has two legitimate threats in the return game with Sanders and former Berkeley High star Bruce Ellington. Ellington was a step away from returning the opening kickoff for a score and had a 54-yard return called back for a holding penalty later in the game.
Spurrier witnessed first-hand how important the return game can be in the rivalry with Georgia. Georgia cornerback Brandon Boykin returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown against the Gamecocks in the Bulldogs' 41-37 victory in 2009.
"You get a good return and it can make all the difference," Spurrier said.
"Those are hidden yards that people might see."