ORANGEBURG -- If Phillip Adams and David Erby were treating the game as the most important one they'll play this season, South Carolina State would be in a bit of trouble.
As it is, the two former Rock Hill High School standouts are keeping their game with No. 17 South Carolina on Saturday in the right perspective -- a huge game for the school, a terrific chance to show family and friends how far they've come, but still a non-conference game that means nothing to their championship aspirations.
"It's a big game, don't get me wrong, but as far as our goals as a team go, we feel that we need to win the MEAC," Adams said Wednesday before suiting up for practice. "We're still focused on winning the MEAC championship."
Not that it's knocking the glow off what they hope to accomplish. S.C. State's campus is abuzz with the talk of the impending matchup, a quick 40 miles down the highway, and plenty of fans are coming to Williams-Brice Stadium sans tickets just to enjoy the atmosphere.
The first matchup between the Bulldogs and the Gamecocks, despite 214 years of football between them, is a hot topic. And with the epic upset Football Championship Series (formerly Division I-AA) brethren Appalachian State pulled two weeks ago, there's always the possibility of S.C. State coming in and knocking USC right out of its 2-0 start.
For Adams and Erby, planning on playing in front of several dozen acquaintances, that'd be icing on the cake.
"It's a big game for me and David, it's a big one for the university," Adams said. "First time we get to play these boys.
"We're just ready to perform on a big stage and put S.C. State on the map."
They've done their part already.
Adams, a backup corner, and Erby, a starting linebacker, have been impressive in their early careers. Each came out of Rock Hill two years ago as multi-tooled athletes, lugging cases of prep awards with them.
Adams, an all-state selection in football and basketball, was named The Herald's Class AAAA Player of the Year after recording 73 tackles and seven interceptions, chipping in 424 rushing yards and five touchdowns on offense. He backed up starter Markee Hamlin, the younger brother of Clemson defensive back Michael Hamlin, at S.C. State last year and intercepted two passes, recovered a fumble and blocked a kick.
Erby, who won defensive MVP honors in the North-South game, stepped right in as a freshman starter and ended up leading the Bulldogs last year with 57 tackles and four sacks. He's got 11 tackles in his first two games this year.
S.C. State was drilled in its season-opener, 34-3 at Air Force, but rebounded to win its MEAC opener, 24-13, over Bethune-Cookman. Once last week's game was over, attention immediately shifted to USC.
There's too much going on to ignore. Adams and Erby have several relatives or friends coming to the game; S.C. State coach Buddy Pough is a former USC assistant; this is the start of an agreement between USC and several in-state schools to play once per year until 2014.
But still not important enough to override the biggest goal -- a conference title.
"No, not really," Erby answered to "Is this your Super Bowl?" "Winning the MEAC is."
Each has said they've looked at USC's offensive game film, concentrating on what they'll have to do. Erby isn't falling in line with teammate Xavier Littleberry, who has set a personal bounty on USC quarterback Blake Mitchell, but is concentrating on how to stop tailbacks Cory Boyd and Mike Davis.
"I see they run a lot of lead draws," Erby said. "(Isolation), I see that on a lot of running plays."
Adams said he was confident the young Bulldogs' secondary could shut down Mitchell and the passing game.
"We're good enough as a secondary to stop anything they throw at us," Adams said. "We're young but we're very experienced in what we do."
But the assignments are only part of the story. Each wants to play well for the team and the audience that is coming to Columbia.
"Probably be about 30 of us," said Erby's father, David Erby. "He called me (Tuesday) night and said he got some tickets on South Carolina's side. He's very excited."
• NOTE: It'll be quite a weekend for former Herald-area stars.
Joining Adams and Erby on the S.C. State roster are linebacker Ryan Potts (Fort Mill), offensive lineman Chris Nelson (Great Falls) and tight end Darris Jackson (Clover).
Two former standouts will also be playing for Furman when the Paladins go to Clemson on Saturday. Fullback Adam Sanders (Westminster Catawba) and offensive lineman Thomas Slaughter (Northwestern) should be on the Paladins' travel roster.
Slaughter will see a familiar face on the opposite sideline. At Northwestern, Slaughter played center in front of quarterback Jimmy Maners. Maners, also the Trojans' punter, punts for the Tigers these days.