FLORENCE – Steve Spurrier looked comfortable and rested, walking into the Floyd Conference Center for the start of South Carolina’s annual FanFest booster club meetings.
Why wouldn’t he be? The Gamecocks’ ninth-year coach has a lot to smile about these days.
Back-to-back 11-win seasons. Back-to-back bowl wins. Another strong recruiting class. Another solid returning group. Consistently beating the biggest names on the schedule.
The bounce in his step, and the consistent nose-tweaking he continues to offer toward his biggest rival, are just other rites of the spring before the grind of preseason camp settles in.
“We open in August against that other Carolina, I call it Dabo’s Carolina,” Spurrier jibed on Thursday, repeating the line he’s used since Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said that the real USC is in California and the real Carolina is in Chapel Hill.
Hey, it gets the crowd laughing during “talking season.”
USC’s FanFest, featuring several activities for children, opportunities to take pictures with a table full of trophies, barbecue and talks from Spurrier and basketball coach Frank Martin began with a breezy, cool day at the conference center named for USC Trustee Eddie Floyd. Spurrier said he felt like home, since his office at Williams-Brice Stadium is in the Floyd Football Building, and he did his usual charming of the crowd and encouraging everyone to come out to see the team in the fall.
Speaking to the side, Spurrier said that he was pleased with the recently concluded spring practice session, and that now it was up to the players to keep working during the summer. He was confident that they would.
“The summer will be more important, because it’s two months’ worth, and hopefully our guys know what it takes to prepare for a season. We’ll see how it works out,” Spurrier said. “I think we have pretty good leaders. The quarterbacks, even some of the young guys, they know how to train and prepare, work and all that kind of stuff. I don’t think we have too many goof-off guys, like we had in years back.”
As it is every year, USC is replacing at some key positions. Redshirt freshman Cody Waldrop is taking over for departed center T.J. Johnson, the Gamecocks are having to fill in for a whopping five departed linebackers, and there are other spots of need that have a head’s-up after spring ball, but may not be final-stamped just yet.
But Spurrier liked what he sees. USC has the plan in place – redshirt a lot of the freshmen year to year, then watch them develop. There isn’t a need to press players into service before they may be ready.
“Cody got his snaps straight for the spring game, as did our other snapper, young Clayton Stadnik,” Spurrier said. “We think Cody’s going to be a real good one. He may have a chance to break T.J.’s starting record of (53 consecutive games started).”
He also said that he appreciates how the schedule sets up, although he doesn’t know if it’s any easier than in years past. “The good part is, Georgia’s is harder,” he cracked. “Theirs is a lot tougher. You can only worry about your own schedule and your own team and your own games.
“Somebody asked me who I was pulling for, when Clemson plays Georgia, as if Georgia’s a big rival of ours. I guess they are, heck, I don’t know. I don’t think Georgia sees us a big rival. We probably see them as probably our biggest conference rival. Whoever wins, that’s fine with me.”
And he couldn’t let the crowd go without another laugher. Discussing last year’s 35-7 whipping of Georgia, Spurrier thanked the crowd for making Williams-Brice as loud as he’s ever heard it. He mentioned that he talked to Bulldogs coach Mark Richt at a recent coaches’ meeting and asked, “What in the world got into your team that day?”
Richt answered, “Your fans got on us.”
n Martin addresses
Martin also spoke, thanking the fans for their support and promising that USC would be better. He’s setting up a more aggressive non-conference schedule (last year’s finished, strength-wise, in the 300s), which he feels will help the team learn how to close out close games.
The schedule is two games away from being finalized. He should release it next week, along with the burning question on many’s minds – what will the roster look like?
With six freshmen already committed for next year, plus Villanova transfer Tyrone Johnson, the numbers are obviously going to have to be worked out. USC will be missing some potential returnees from this year’s team, but the question is, which ones?
“When it comes to the new recruits and all that, sometime next week. I like speaking all at once so it’s not an everyday thing,” Martin said. “I finished all my meetings with the returning players last week. Next week when I do that, I’ll be clear on everything.”
Martin acknowledged that obviously, some players will have to go. It’s the bad side of the business, but it can work - he pointed out that Michigan had three players transfer after last season and the Wolverines ended up playing for the national championship this season.
“The most difficult thing to do is to tell a young man, in high school, is to cut a kid. I never had the courage to cut a kid,” Martin said. “College basketball, I’ve never told a kid to leave because he’s not good enough. I’ve had kids transfer from K-State. I’ve never cut a guy for lack of talent.
“As coaches, when you sign a young man, you recruit a young man, you can’t come back two years later and tell him he’s not good enough. We all go out and get married. And sometimes the person we marry, we end up getting divorced. That doesn’t make us bad people. The relationship is not what you thought it would be two years earlier.”
Martin is excited about what his team will be next year, although it will be frighteningly young. “People think that I’m this Scrooge, that I’m always in this bad mood,” he said. “I get to wake up every day and try to help kids. I’m excited about that. I’ve been at a place where you get up and go into work and you say, ‘I might get shot at today.’ Now my job is to get up and help kids.”