Spurrier: Commitment Is Contagious
Some tremendous Gamecock Club Members were on hand for the event, such as Board President Randy Tisdale, as well as a few thirty year members. Delighted, Gamecock Head Coach Steve Spurrier accepted a $10,000 check from the group on behalf of the University.
One of his main concerns is the money the program spends and how it spends it. He went so far as to cite particular instances where the improvements are obvious, "Before I got here, there were four instances in the history of the program when someone donated one million dollars. In the last two years, we've had eight."
He continued, "To show you how far we've come, when I got here we had a two hundred and fifty thousand dollar a year contract with Russell Athletics. Some of the big companies saw us on television every Saturday night and then saw us finish number four in recruiting, and they started bidding. When it all ended up, Under Armour is our new apparel company. We got a six year deal for approximately 1.8 million per year."
He then gave details about how the money would be spent, such as the Academic Learning Center, expansion of the trainer's area, and the addition of ten thousand seats in the other end zone. The plan is to get Williams Brice to a capacity of 90,000 like Georgia, Florida and other big programs.
As For the Team
With the Garnet & Black game a month in the past, Spurrier has had time to reflect, judge and evaluate where the 2007 Gamecocks are headed. He maintains this is his best team yet at USC, but continues to wave the caution flag when the offensive line questions come up.
"I didn't feel very good going into last year, and we weren't very good early, and we're not very good right now, so hopefully we'll get better," says Spurrier about his offensive line.
The Gamecock defense is expected to be a strong point this year, so maybe the poor offensive line performance looked worse than it actually was during the spring. Coach Spurrier shot down the theory quickly saying, "A little bit, a little bit, but again, I guarantee ya' Georgia, Forlida, Tennessee I guarantee ya, they're gonna have defensive players as good as ours."
Asked to give some specifics about the offensive line, he named Jamon Meredith and Justin Sorenson at tackle, before stating Sorenson's weight loss.
Candid, the coach smiled and said, "I told Justin if he wasn't out drinking beer every night he'd probably drop about twenty five pounds. So now he's down to just one night a week."
Ryan Broadhead, Heath Batchelor and Kevin Young were also named as possible offensive line contributors. He made sure to make the point that it is clearly improving though year by year.
He continued with past performance and the need for improvement, "We haven't had a lineman drafted since I've been here," then he added, "I think William Brown has a chance to be a good one."
They'll need to improve as the SEC continues to improve. Coach Spurrier noted the improving powers, "Kentucky and Vandy may be better. Heck, both of them beat Georgia last year so they're competitive. We'll probably be picked fourth like always."
With his second season under his belt, the Ball Coach took the time to reflect, "Last year was an interesting year. Lots of my Gamecock buddies say, ‘Coach, that was a great year last year,' and I say, ‘No it wasn't. Did you know we were 3-5 in the SEC?"
What you see is what you get with Coach Spurrier. He doesn't hide the goals; rather he goes public with them. Settling for the Liberty Bowl is obviously not where the Spurrier era starts to go with the status quo. He explains, "We lost some close ones, and we had some chances to win against Auburn, Arkansas, Tennessee and had a pretty good chance down in The Swamp, but we didn't get it done."
His voice emphasized, "but we didn't get it done" as if to challenge his players 225 miles away. Not all negative though, the coach didn't stop there, "What was important was winning the last three games."
Spurrier elaborated with a shocking statistic to back the Gamecocks' accomplishments at the end of the season, "In my twelve years at the University of Florida – only one time did we win the last three games. That's all."
"I think that's what propelled us into recruiting season. It was ranked #4 in the ESPN.com and ranked #6 in Lindy's. We're right in there, and I think we've got a lot of really good players. But only time will tell."
"Anyway, we did achieve most of our goals, winning more than we lost, beating Clemson and winning the bowl game. Now for next year we're raising our goals – we're raising the bar."
Talking about the players' commitment level, Spurrier explained how the month of May is usually when programs give their players the mandatory month off. In previous seasons that desire to improve wasn't evident as their time in the gym seemed to vanish in May. With things changing on the Carolina horizon, Spurrier explained how last week he was in the gym working out when Clifton Geathers and Travian Robertson came in to work out, praising the two for working out on their own.
He cited the lyrics of country song Sugerland, "I ain't settlin' for just getting' by. I'm raisin' the bar high, and I ain't settlin' for anything less than everything."
"Everything to us," he continued, "is winning that game in the Georgia Dome at the end of the year." A standing ovation rocked the ballroom before he could finish.
He continued looking to next year, "We were competitive with practically everyone last year. We're gonna set a goal of winning the SEC this year. After two years we're raising the bar a bit to see what we can do."
Citing some victories along with some losses throughout recruiting Coach Spurrier said, "We got some and lost some. Georgia is still always going to get their share, but what was encouraging was that two players, Clifton Geathers and Ladi Abajoye, had committed to other schools but didn't qualify. They went to Hargrave to qualify, and then they got in touch with us. They wanted to come to South Carolina now."
"Fred Chatham up in North Carolina was big. We got seven players out of North Carolina. That was big," said Spurrier, "We had only two players on the team from North Carolina when I first got here. Fred went up there looking at seven players and signed all of them."
Again referring to how last season ended and its impact, he said, "I tell people, and I hope I'm right, that the Clemson victory could be the game that turned the corner to change Carolina football for many years to come."
"Looking to next year, we return just about everybody," he said.
Giving the example of Ryan Brown, who started the last two years on and off at defensive end, being shifted to fullback/tight end this year. Spurrier called him a "good solid player at 6'2" 245." The reasoning behind the shift is that even Brown, as dependable as he was, didn't have room with all of the returning defenders ready to play.
He went on to comment on some specific players and their 2007 outlook:
"Eric Norwood, a local Atlanta kid, has a chance to be a really good player for us."
"Carlos Thomas had his best spring yet. Number five gave up a lot of big plays here and there last year, but Carlos had an excellent Spring."
"Jared Cook, also from this area, is one of the fastest players on the team, and we have to figure out a way to use him."
"Ladi Ajiboye, who had committed to Virginia Tech, came to us and right now we don't have anybody who can block him."
"Marque Hall is one of eight players we can rotate in who was hurt last year and is ready to play some."
"Cliff Matthews is a big time player coming in here."
Moving on to the offense as a unit last year Spurrier said it looked better before mentioning an impressive statistic that went unnoticed, "We punted thirty times last year. In the first two games we punted ten of them. So the last eleven games, we had twenty punts. That's less than two a game. That's pretty good."
He continued with his specific comments about players:
"Our best receiver is a local kid from Atlanta, Kenny McKinley," with the Atlanta crowd cheering, Spurrier took the opportunity to poke a little fun at his sure handed receiver, "Kenny threw the ball up into the stands in our bowl game and that was um, that was stupid."
"The Brinkley brothers really played well for us. If we didn't have the Brinkley brothers, I don't know who'd be making all the tackles last year."
"Jasper (Brinkley) and Cory Boyd could have gone pro like most players historically at South Carolina. When they see the opportunity to pick up a little money in the pros, they all hit the road. But these guys wanted to finish what they started."
"Dustin Lindsey should be back early in the year."
"Chris Culliver is the fastest (of those) coming in, and he'll have a chance to return some kicks."
"Kenrick Ellis is doing fine. He's down to about 325, and he came in at 350. He's doing fine."
It's Not Just About Recruiting and On Field Performance
A major concern this time of year aside from recruiting is the performance of returning players in the classroom. With finals behind them, the Ball Coach has heard no bad news of yet.
"As far as we know," said Spurrier, "everyone came through OK. Don't know it all yet."
They are just about status quo though with the rest of the country. Working to improve, it is an on-going process that comes in the form of mandatory class attendance.
"We try to teach our guys to be honest, to be on time and to be responsible. Commitment is contagious."
Coach Spurrier tries to be stern faced when discussing the team and its need for improvement, but something is different this year. It almost seems as though he's holding back a smile – like he's excited. Like he said though, he ain't settlin' for anything less... than everything.
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