Growing up in South Carolina, you have the option of choosing one of two football teams to pull for — University of South Carolina Gamecocks or Clemson University Tigers.
For Sumter, S.C., native and country music star Lee Brice, the choice was so obvious, he almost made a career out of it.
“Growing up, my daddy got recruited to play football [at Clemson], but he stayed home to work and have kids,” Brice said. “So my whole life, I wanted to go to Clemson — we were a complete Clemson family. I started getting pretty good at football, so I started getting letters from a lot of colleges, including Clemson. To be able to actually go to Clemson, it was like my dream come true.”
As a long snapper, Brice spent hours a day trying to perfect his snaps. He ended up tearing all of the cartilage out of his elbow, basically ending his football career.
“I got hurt and I said, ‘You know what, I’m done with it,’” Brice said. ”It was a real job in college. I was like, ‘I’m done, I just want to go and play music.’ It’s such a big part of me, playing music and writing songs. Now I’m really living my dream.”
It wasn’t too long ago that another popular country music star was the frontman for one of the biggest college bands in the world. Darius Rucker, the voice behind Hootie and the Blowfish, has blazed up the country music charts.
Rucker is a proud alum from the University of South Carolina. He usually can be seen either watching the games live or wearing some sort of Gamecocks logo on his hat.
The two men from South Carolina tearing up the country charts are bitter rivals, at least when it comes to choice of college football team.
“No matter how much we may hate each other’s alma mater, we still think, South Carolina in general … we’re very proud of our state,” Brice said. “It’s kind of like Texas. Those guys are so proud of their state, I’m really that way about South Carolina. I think it comes out in a lot of my songs, and him, too. We’re proud of each other and I’m excited for him.”
Brice learned how to play the piano at church when he was younger. That led to him picking up a guitar. For him, having a successful album and fans all across the country was the inevitable next step.
“I was a kid and I was like, ‘This is what I want to do,’” Brice said. “There was nothing else. I knew that I would work hard enough at it to get good at it. I always saw me on stage, I always saw me writing songs for people. I just saw it.
“I expected myself to be here. Once I got here, it was almost like a shock, it’s like ‘Wow, I can’t believe this!’ But I did have to see it to get here.”
Brice has his good-natured songs, such as “Parking Lot Party,” but he also has a great tearjerker in “I Drive Your Truck.” The song talks about the powerful emotions a man goes through after his brother is killed in the war. Although he didn’t write the song himself, he knew it was a great song when he heard it. Most of his songs, according to Brice, are fairly autobiographical.
“I’m an emotional dude and I kind of grew up a romantic dude,” Brice said. “But I’m also kind of this big, tough football-playing redneck and hunting dude. There’s a lot of facets to me. I really grew up digging Alabama and Vince Gill and heartfelt music and stuff like that, stuff that changed the world.
“Stuff like, ‘I Drive Your Truck’ ... when I heard that song, it floored me. And I just thought to myself, ‘You know, that could really change a lot of people’s lives if they heard it.’ I wanted to go share that with people.”
The boy from Sumter has come a long way since snapping the ball for the Tigers of Clemson. He sells out venues at a quick pace and is set to take on the rest of country world, whether they pull for Clemson or not.
“I’ve seen a bunch of shows in my life,” Brice said. “The best one I ever saw was Garth Brooks. He came out swinging and it was unbelievable. It was so great because what we grow up doing is playing a guitar. He would break down describing a guitar and he would break it down to a whole ’nother place and dynamic and emotion. He just left you overwhelmed.
“I try to have fun. I try to have fun and I want to take you on a roller coaster ride of emotions and intensity. That’s how I approach it every night and I enjoy it that way as well.”