At Thursday’s final meeting of the Orangeburg Touchdown Club for 2016, those in attendance were treated to a detailed University of South Carolina athletic program update from athletics director Ray Tanner.
Coach Tanner has been the AD at USC since 2012, after 16 seasons as the Gamecocks head baseball coach, including six years making the College World Series and two years winning the national title.
“There’s no doubt Ray Tanner knows what it’s going to take for the Gamecocks to compete and win in Southeastern Conference play in all sports going forward,” S.C. State head football coach Buddy Pough said, when introducing Tanner on Thursday. “Today, for example, he has to head back to Columbia early since South Carolina is hosting both men’s and women’s soccer national playoff matches.”
Tanner was pleased to announce that, just this week, the NCAA released the latest Graduation Success Rate (GSR) figures.
“The Gamecocks are flying high in Graduation Success Rate,” Tanner said. “Our football program is No. 1 in the SEC at graduating football players.
“In the entire SEC, with all of our student-athletes in all sports, we are No. 2 behind Vanderbilt. So, we are doing very well. Nationally, (among football programs) we are No. 3 behind Northwestern and Stanford. We are very excited about those numbers.”
The Gamecocks athletic department has more than 500 student-athletes across all sports.
“As Coach Pough mentioned, we have great things going on with our sports, soccer teams playing in the first round of the NCAA tournament today, basketball season has started, and the football team can become bowl-eligible with a win on Saturday at home against Western Carolina,” Tanner said. “Last year, we were 3-9 (in football) and a lot of people didn’t think that (a bowl game this season) would be possible.
“Coach Muschamp and his staff have been remarkable. The efficiency, effectiveness and asking the players to accept their assignments from day one has been very special. It inspires me to go to their practices and watch what’s going on there. We’re in a good position.”
As an athletics director, Tanner said that’s what it’s all about.
“It’s not about being first or winning at a high level; it’s about your position,” Tanner said. “It’s about whether or not you are in a position to be successful.
“As a student-athlete are you in a position to be successful, whether you are focusing on your academics or focusing on your competition? As an AD, it’s my job to enhance their opportunities, whether it’s facilities and resources or academic support. If you are in a good position, then you have a chance to win.”
With Dawn Staley's defending SEC champion women's basketball team having opened the season on Monday with a win against another national Top 10 program at Ohio State, Tanner recalled a conversation he had with Staley prior to this month. He was pointing out that the coach had scheduled the toughest non-conference schedule in the country for this season, including games with Duke, UCLA, Louisville, Minnesota, Connecticut and Texas.
"I told her a few months back, I'm not trying to second-guess you, but your schedule is a little ambitious," Tanner said. "She said ' you can't be first unless you beat them all.'
"I said, go get 'em! Maybe she wants to win another conference title besides the SEC. She's now won the SEC three years in a row."
Tanner mentioned that other sports at USC are doing well and seeing improved facilities, including the final stages of a new outdoor track facility that costs $14 million to construct.
"We have great things going on in our athletic department," Tanner said. "You may already know, we have opened up our new indoor football facility, over near Williams-Brice (Stadium).
"Well, the football operations center has just received final state approval this month. So, we are in the bidding process right now and we will break ground on that facility in the early spring. It will be a one-stop shop for football. You name it and we will have it there - weight room, training room, coaches offices, nutrition center, lounge and everything for football. We are excited about that."
Also at the OTC meeting, Hunter-Kinard-Tyler’s Camry James and Orangeburg-Wilkinson’s Zyon Utsey were recognized as Sports Plus Players of the Week, for their recent play on the football field. Utsey and Calhoun County senior quarterback Terrence Brunson were both recognized as ATI Physical Therapy Comeback Players of the Month. Both tore their ACLs playing basketball, but rehabilitated their knees to return and play football this season on playoff contending teams.