S. Carolina's top player breaks elbow as team van crashes hours after tourney


South Carolina will be without its top player, Nathan Franks, for at least the remainder of the regular season after Franks was injured in an accident involving the Gamecocks’ team van coming home from a tournament.

Franks, a junior from Roebuck, South Carolina, fractured his right elbow in the three-vehicle crash just hours after he picked up his second individual victory of the season, a three-shot win Sunday afternoon at the Schenkel Invitational in Statesboro, Georgia. Franks was riding shotgun in the team’s sprinter van alongside the driver, Gamecocks assistant Brady Gregor, when another car, making a left-hand turn, pulled out in front of them on Highway 25 in Waynesboro, about a third of the way into a three-hour trip back to Columbia, South Carolina.

Gregor, cruising through the green light in the right lane of the five-lane highway (the middle lane is a turn lane), swerved right to avoid a direct collision. The driver’s side of the van sustained the brunt of the hard impact, and the van then careened into a power truck, which kept it from skidding off into what Gregor estimated to be an 8-foot-deep ditch. The other driver was determined to have been at fault, having ran through a red turn signal.

"It's like she didn't even see us, didn't see the light that was red, definitely didn't try to stop because she just gunned it, trying to speed up to get through that intersection," Gregor said. "I hit the brakes but there were no skid marks. ... I turned hard enough that we hit her at a 45-degree angle and rode connected [with her car] all the way into the truck, and when we hit the truck, we came to a stop while it shot her car into a spin and back into the intersection. She tried to take off, but her car shut down."

Gregor said that they were planning on turning right in about 100 yards and into a gas station to get donuts (that station sits on the corner of that intersection); the debate was that or ice cream, but Franks, who won in Statesboro earlier this spring, wanted to keep the donut tradition going.

"One of those crazy decisions, if we would've went into the gas station a different way, we maybe would've missed this thing," Gregor said.

Added South Carolina head coach Bill MacDonald, who was driving in a separate car and about two miles ahead of the crash: “It could’ve been a lot worse and more head-on had Brady not reacted so quickly. Yeah, it was pretty scary.”


There were initially no serious injuries – the five other traveling South Carolina players were sitting in the back of the van and had only some bumps and bruises. Franks was even unloading luggage that evening upon returning home, and all the team members underwent additional wellness checks Sunday night on campus.

But once the adrenaline wore off on Monday morning, Franks called MacDonald to tell him that he couldn’t extend his right arm and it was really sore. The diagnosis was a hairline fracture in his right elbow, and though Franks avoided surgery and casting, he’s now wearing a sling and will miss at least the team’s final two regular-season events, including the Hootie at Bulls Bay, which starts Sunday. The SEC Championship begins April 24 and NCAA regionals are set for May 13-15.

“If he’s on schedule, maybe around SECs he’ll be able to make some swings, and then he’d have two weeks to get ready for regionals,” MacDonald said. “That’s best-case.”

Added Gregor: "I feel terrible for Nate because he's the kind of guy that I could call him right now and ask if he wanted to play through it, and he'd say yes."

Franks said through MacDonald that he was still trying to process everything that had happened.


The Gamecocks are currently ranked No. 58 in the country; that’s about a dozen spots inside the bubble for at-large teams not automatically qualifying into the 81-team postseason, but with South Carolina’s 42-40 head-to-head record after a fifth-place showing at the Schenkel, the Gamecocks are flirting with the .500 rule. Franks’ absence means South Carolina will be without its top-ranked individual (No. 92) as it fights for a regional berth, and it will need players such as Rafe Reynolds (No. 136) and Frankie Harris (No. 160) to step up. Gene Ziegler will see his first action of the season at Bulls Bay as he plays as an individual behind Reynolds, Harris, Zach Adams, Lansdon Robbins and Laurens Schulze-Doering.

"If you would've called me coming home, I would've told you that we were gonna roll all the way through SECs," Gregor said. "Hopefully, guys can step up and get us there as a team."

In the grand scheme of things, though, Gregor and MacDonald are thankful that a broken bone and totaled van were the worst of Sunday night’s accident, especially just days removed from the two-year anniversary of the fatal crash that claimed the lives of seven members of the University of the Southwest men’s and women’s golf teams, including the head coach and six players.

“We’re really fortunate,” MacDonald said. “Seeing the accident and the aftermath and talking with the guys, Brady really moved quickly on it. I was telling another coach just randomly the other day that [driving the van] is really the hardest thing we do as coaches. How many sports are coaches out on the field of play during a game and then expected to drive their kids safely back to campus? I think it’s something that’s really overlooked in our sport safety-wise. … We’re very fortunate that there aren’t more bad situations, honestly.”