COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Welcome home, Justin Stepp.
The former Pelion High standout gets to coach right in his backyard of Columbia, South Carolina.
“This place means a lot to me,” said Stepp. “It’s home.”
It had barely been 24 hours since his arrival home when the new Gamecocks’ wide receivers coach met with the media Monday.
“Pulling into the parking lot this morning, driving out here last night, it’s surreal,” added Stepp.
He was shocked when Beamer called about the opportunity to work at his dream school. The process from the initial call to the job offer was quick. Stepp did not drop the ball on the chance to be closer to family and coach receivers at Carolina. The first person Stepp called was his wife, who supported the opportunity of a lifetime.
“To be here is a dream come true for my family and me,” said Stepp.
Stepp’s parents went to school at the University of South Carolina. As a child, his dad used to cut straws to see whether he or his twin brother, Josh, or sister, Jessica, would attend Gamecock home games. Stepp even envisioned suiting up in the Garnet and Black.
“I was the kid that signed up for tickets every weekend,” Stepp mentioned. “I remember those guys on staff had to be like, ‘This kid ain’t figured it out yet we’re not going to recruit him.’ I was in those stands every Saturday coming to every game. I wore some of those coaches out trying to get up here every Saturday. This is it. There’s no other job I would have left for than to be right here in Columbia.”
Stepp’s collegiate career took him to Furman. The opportunity to lace up for the Paladins taught him the value of patience and set daily practice goals. His time at Furman helped put into focus the values it takes to be great on and off the field.
His dad, a former high school coach, provided a path to Stepp’s true calling. Stepp credits his dad and so many great coaches in the state for shining a light on what it truly means to lead young people through the game of football.
“I tell my guys all the time if the only thing you get out of me is learning how to run a better route, learning how to catch the ball better, then I failed you and everybody that has poured into your life to this point,” said Stepp. “I failed them miserably. It’s about helping them grow off the field. I think that’s something I saw my dad, and those guys I grew up around in this state.”
Outside of his high school coach Ben Freeman, Stepp was quick to point out Newberry’s legendary leader, Phil Strickland.
“Phil Strickland is like Vince Lombardi to me,” said a smiling Stepp. “To think I can have that same impact on a kid, I don’t take that for granted.”
Nor does he take the opportunity to coach at South Carolina for granted.
“I went into that receiver room and looked around,” Stepp added. “I just cannot believe I am actually the receivers coach at this university where some of these guys have played. I know there’s a proud tradition at receiver.”
Stepp embraces his role in molding new Carolina legends at that position. The key to developing great wide receivers begins by cultivating strong relationships and a player’s love of the game.
“One thing you got to have is you got to love the game of football,” Stepp said. “If you don’t love it at this level, you’ll get exposed.”
“I couldn’t be more excited about coaching the guys that are here. I want guys that want to be here. I want guys that want to play here for South Carolina. This is my dream job. This is home. I want guys that are as passionate about playing for this university as I am about coaching them.”
“Relationships mean a lot to me — relationships with my players, staff, great coaches in this state. I’m where I am today because of high school coaches.”