Former South Carolina State University defensive end Robert Porcher’s only objective when he went off to college was to get out of his parents’ house “because they had too many rules.’’
One of their strictest rules was that if his grades weren’t up to par he couldn’t play football, and they weren’t up to par for most of Porcher’s high school career. That meant Porcher only played one year of high school football.
“The second semester of my junior year I realized they weren’t playing,’’ Porcher said. “After I realized they were serious, I buckled down.’’
The tough love that Robert Porcher Jr. and Dr. Marilyn M. Porcher showed the oldest of their three children was the foundation for a stellar career that has earned Porcher induction into the 2017 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) Hall of Fame. He will be enshrined during an awards brunch on March 9 at the Marriott Waterside Hotel in Norfolk, Va.
The 2017 Hall of Fame class, which also includes former Bethune-Cookman softball standout Amber Jackson; Rashean Mathis, a three-time All-MEAC performer in football at Bethune-Cookmnan; Francena McCorory, a three-time NCAA champion in track at Hampton, and Tracy White, a football All-American at Howard, will also be recognized before the 6 p.m. men’s basketball game, during the 2017 MEAC Basketball Tournament on March 9, at the Norfolk Scope Arena.
“My whole career I always gave thanks to my parents,’’ Porcher said. “They were the first in their families to go to college and graduate. I was blessed to have parents who came to all my games. I always wanted to make my family proud.’’
Porcher did made his parents proud with his play during his two seasons at South Carolina State, after transferring from Tennessee State. As a senior in 1991, he was voted MEAC Defensive Player of the Year, the NFL Draft Report named him its 1991 NCAA Division I-AA (now FCS) Defensive Player of the Year, and the Detroit Lions selected him in the first round of the 1992 NFL Draft, making him the first South Carolina State player ever chosen in the first round. He retired as the Lions’ career sack leader after a 13-year career.
Porcher’s hall of fame career began with zero fanfare because of his poor high school academic record. Only Tennessee State and South Carolina State offered him a scholarship. Porcher was set to sign with South Carolina State, which is about an hour drive from his hometown of Mount Pleasant, S.C. However, his father insisted that he visit Tennessee State.
When Porcher saw the Tigers’ history of producing NFL defensive linemen – Claude Humphrey, Richard Dent, Ed “Too Tall’’ Jones and Joe “Turkey’’ Jones among them – Porcher said “I felt I had to go there.’’ However, he was academically ineligible to play his first season.
Porcher became the starting left defensive end in the third game of his second season at Tennessee State and played well. But the Tigers made a coaching change at the end of the season, firing Bill Thomas and hiring Joe Gilliam Sr. Porcher decided it was a good time for him to transfer to South Carolina State, his first choice originally, so he could be closer to home.
The move coincided with Willie Jeffries’ return to South Carolina State for his second stint as head coach.
“I became a player under Coach Jeffries,’’ Porcher said, adding that playing for Jeffries helped him make a smooth transition into the NFL, on and off the field. “What really helped me was Coach Jeffries and how he ran his program, how he interacted with us and treated us as young men, and how he interacted with the student body. That helped me stay humble when I went to Detroit.’’
Initially, Porcher second-guessed his decision to transfer to South Carolina State. NCAA rules mandated that he sit out a season after changing schools. He also found life in Orangeburg, S.C. much slower than what he had grown accustomed to during his two years in Nashville, Tenn. Things picked up for him when he became eligible to play his junior season.
Up until that point, playing in the NFL was a mere pipe dream for Porcher. But that changed during the spring following his junior season when two his former Tennessee State teammates, safety Tony Stargell and defensive end Anthony Pleasant, were chosen in the third round of the NFL draft. They were the first athletes that he knew personally ever drafted. What’s more, in his heart he believed he was better than both.
That summer Porcher dedicated himself to a non-stop conditioning program and was in the best shape of his life when he reported for preseason practice.
“I took it serious,’’ Porcher said, who only took off on Saturdays and Sundays.
In the meantime, Stargell was in training camp with the New York Jets, who were scheduled to play a preseason game against the Washington Redskins in Columbia, S.C. Stargell got a pair of tickets for Porcher, who got permission from Jeffries to attend the game.
When the game ended, Stargell and Porcher talked, and Stargell said to him, “If you don’t play on Sundays it will be a disgrace.’’
“After I left that night, I was totally different,’’ Porcher said. “I was already focused, but hearing that changed my whole trajectory.’’
With Stargell’s words ringing in his ears, Porcher had a breakout season. He registered 88 tackles, including a conference-best 15.5 sacks.
“I knew that was my last opportunity (to impress NFL scouts),’’ he said. “I had shown flashes that I could possibly play on Sunday. I knew if I was going to play on Sunday, I had to get it done during the season. I knew if I wanted to play on Sundays, which I did, I had to do it day in and day out not only in games but in practice, how you conduct yourself around school. Everything had to be on a professional level.’’
By mid-season, all eyes were on Porcher as NFL scouts flocked to Orangeburg to see him play and opposing teams schemed to control him.
A highlight of the season came when South Carolina State played Florida A&M in the Palmetto Classic at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia. He returned an interception for the only touchdown of his college career.
Porcher will celebrate his glorious career on March 9 as he will be inducted with four other former student-athletes into the 2017 MEAC Hall of Fame.