COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- Only hours after learning his senior season was finished with a knee injury, South Carolina star linebacker Jasper Brinkley was pointing toward next year.
Brinkley, on the preseason watch lists for the Lombardi and Butkus awards, sustained a right knee sprain during the Gamecocks' 28-16 loss at No. 2 LSU last Saturday.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said Monday the team expects to get a medical waiver from the NCAA so Brinkley can be with the Gamecocks in 2008. Jasper's twin, Casper, expects his younger brother to return next fall.
"He's very excited about having another chance to come back and play his whole year," said Casper, who also starts for South Carolina's defense.
When asked about his standout middle linebacker Sunday, Spurrier said Jasper would most likely miss a few days of practice but expected him to be ready when No. 16 South Carolina faces Mississippi State on Saturday.
The prognosis worsened Monday. Spurrier expected Jasper to need about three months of rehab after surgery.
"At first, he was real down about it," Casper said. "This whole year, we were planning on this being a big year, going out with a bang this year. But he's holding up pretty good."
Jasper Brinkley was a key part of South Carolina's successful start this season. He had 21 tackles and led the team with two interceptions.
More importantly, Casper said, Jasper was the leader everyone else could follow.
"Next year at this time, we might be saying, 'We're glad he got hurt,"' Spurrier said Monday night. "We all plan to be here next year. We should definitely have a stronger team next year. In a way, having Jasper here next year is a positive."
The Gamecocks were fortunate to have the 6-foot-2, 262-pounder around this year. Jasper Brinkley led the team -- and was fourth in the Southeastern Conference -- with 107 tackles, which was more than double the next highest Gamecock defender.
Jasper, though, passed up the lure of the NFL draft for his senior season.
And it looked like the right decision, at least in the eyes of Gamecock fans, when Jasper Brinkley had a late interception to preserve South Carolina's 16-12 victory at Georgia on Sept. 8.
Brinkley hoped to have a similar impact at second-ranked LSU, but was hurt in the opening quarter. He went back in briefly before leaving the game for good.
Casper said Jasper thought he only had a "little bump on the knee.
"But after the game, he was in so much pain, he knew it was serious," Casper Brinkley said.
Jasper Brinkley showed similar grit earlier this season, missing several preseason practices and some of the Gamecocks' season-opener against Louisiana-Lafayette.
Brinkley is the second starter South Carolina's defense has lost for the year. Defensive lineman Nathan Pepper injured his left knee on a 19-yard interception return for a touchdown in a 38-3 win over South Carolina State on Sept. 15.
Gamecock coaches shifted Casper Brinkley from linebacker to Pepper's end position. This time, Spurrier said junior linebacker Marvin Sapp, second on the team with 51 tackles a year ago, would get the call to clog up the middle the way Jasper Brinkley did so effectively.
"We've had previous injuries," Sapp said. "But we've done a great job of pulling together in times when it's really rough and key people go down."