COLUMBIA, S.C. - Former South Carroll High gridiron standout Mike Landry decided to play college football at the University of South Carolina before even setting foot on the Columbia campus.
In fact, you could say that even after deciding, he was up in the air.
That's because he made his decision on board a southbound aircraft a few thousand feet over the state capital.
Jets arriving at Columbia Metropolitan Airport circle over Williams-Brice Stadium, home of the Fighting Gamecocks, and from his seat Landry could look down on the 72,400-seat complex.
Spying the distinctive lighting standards towering above the east and west sections of the stadium, he knew that was where he wanted to spend his Saturday afternoons.
Later in that January 1989 visit, he gave the athletic department an oral commitment to play football at South Carolina.
And after being redshirted his freshman year, he has played football, averaging between 25-30 plays a game as linebacker in the 1990 season.
So, does the former Cavalier quarterback and linebacker have any regrets about his hasty decision, about choosing a college on the only official visit he would make to a campus?
"It's a great place to play football," Landry said, following the Gamecocks' 38-13 victory over the Southern Illinois Salukis on Nov. 10.
"It's exciting to play every weekend."
Since Columbia -- and all of South Carolina, for that matter -- has no professional teams to cheer on, fans rally around the Gamecocks. And nowhere is that support so visible as it is at Williams-Brice Stadium on autumn afternoons.
All home games are well-attended, and some matches draw crowds of 75,000 -- 2,600 over capacity. The city itself has a population of only 106,750.
Landry said it makes for an atmosphere markedly different from his high school playing days.
"Football is a lot more important here than it is up there (in Carroll County)," he said. "Here, it's football or nothing."
He's recognized in his classes, where at 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, he is both metaphorically and literally a big man on campus.
"You'll have people come up to you and say 'Hi,' and you don't know who they are," Landry said. "The fans down here are so crazy. They know everything about everyone."
Kerry Tharp, sports information director at South Carolina, said the students aren't the only ones who are rabid in their support of the Gamecocks.
A few years ago, two local businessmen bought 22 cabooses, painted their exteriors in the university's colors and put them on an abandoned stretch of railroad track adjacent to the stadium.
Tharp said the two then put them on the market at $45,000 apiece and sold all 22 in two hours. They now are used seven days out of the year, on home football game days, for tailgate parties.
That is the backdrop to which the 19-year-old is playing in his first season of big-time college football.
Landry said he wasn't too disappointed at being redshirted last year, as few youngsters go from high school immediately to playing college football.
"It's kind of a common thing they do with freshmen," he explained.
"It gives you a chance to get ready, to get bigger and stronger."
The extra time has paid off for him.
He finished the 1990 season with 39 tackles, 22 of them unassisted.
And through the first eight games of the season, Landry was tied for the team lead with two interceptions.
Ironically, in the game against the Salukis, Landry was in pursuit of the Southern Illinois quarterback, who proceeded to throw an interception to fellow Gamecock Cedric Surrat, who then took the lead in interceptions with three.
Landry said he has been pleased with his play so far.
The coaching staff reviews films after each game and grades all of the players. Landry has graded out on the plus side more times than not.
In fact, his position coach predicts Landry will letter in football after this, his first season.
"He's very knowledgeable of the game, and we're real pleased with him," said Roy Gregory, inside linebacker coach. "I don't see anything but good things for him. He has a good ability to get around the football. He sees well on the field."
As for his future, Landry said he doesn't even think about pro ball, since he hasn't cracked the starting lineup yet. But he's a second-stringer now, playing behind a junior, so a starting assignment should come in time.
Until then, he'll continue to get his licks in at linebacker whenever he can, as well as help out on special teams, an assignment he is less than thrilled about.
"I don't like special teams," Landry said. "I'd rather play defense, but it's an important part of the game."