College Sports

Brinkley says he'll return to USC

COLUMBIA -- Jasper Brinkley gets "The Question" everywhere.

On campus.

At home in Thomson, Ga.

On phone calls from prospective agents.

Everyone wants to know the same thing -- Is the South Carolina middle linebacker returning to school next year or moving on to the NFL?

Brinkley has answered it previously. Days after sustaining a season-ending knee injury at LSU in September, Brinkley told reporters he intended to be back at USC in 2008.

During a 30-minute interview Friday, Brinkley said several times that his position has not changed.

"My mind is set on coming back right now. I don't have my mind on nothing else," he said. "I don't think anything could change it."

Brinkley said there was a "slim possibility" he would join his twin brother, Casper, a USC defensive end, in the April draft. But in the next breath, he seemed to shoot down that possibility.

"Only thing I would have to say is if my family was just in dire need," Jasper said. "Right now I think we're financially stable at home, so I don't think there's a reason for me to come out right now."

After two years at Georgia Military College, Brinkley was an All-SEC selection in 2006 when he led the Gamecocks and was third in the conference with 107 tackles. Four games into his senior season, Brinkley tore the lateral collateral ligament in his right knee and was lost for the year.

USC coaches are optimistic Brinkley will receive a medical hardship and be granted a fifth year of eligibility. According to NCAA bylaws, athletes can apply for a waiver if they are injured during the first half of the season and played in fewer than 30 percent of a team's scheduled games -- four games (rounded up from 3.6) in a 12-game season.

Brinkley said he would likely seek an evaluation from the NFL's underclassmen advisory committee, which last year projected him as a late-round pick or undrafted free agent. But he said he "wasn't really worried" where he is slotted, and expects to play his final collegiate season.

Reminded that former USC receiver Sidney Rice entered the 2007 draft after saying he would return to school, Brinkley pointed to his own situation a year ago.

"I know a lot of people thought I was going to leave last year, also. But I came back. I kept my word," Brinkley said. "I said it last year and I'm saying it this year. You've just got to believe me."

Despite being spurned by Rice, Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier said he believes Brinkley and junior receiver Kenny McKinley when they say they will be back.

"I am confident in what they've said, that they're coming back," Spurrier said recently. "I'm equally confident in both of them that they'll be back."

Brinkley, who continues to rehab his knee following surgery to re-attach the ligament, was the Gamecocks' leading tackler at the time of his injury. He brushes off the popular notion that his presence might have helped USC stop the season-ending, five-game slide that cost the team a bowl berth.

"It's great for people to say that," he said. "But I don't think just one person could have made a difference out there."

Brinkley said none of the agents who have contacted him has tried to convince him to leave. Besides, the 6-foot-2, 262-pounder believes he has some unfinished business.

"I feel like I was on a mission before I got injured, because I told myself when I first got here I wanted to be the best linebacker to ever come through the University of South Carolina," he said. "I feel like I was on the timeline to do it. But with the injury, being hurt, I think it kind of threw me off. I want to be a part of a winning team, also."