USC's Opening Practice Draws Record Crowd

The Gamecocks officially kicked off the 2007 football season Saturday night with the first practice of the fall. An estimated crowd of 3,100 fans showed up to support the team as Coach Steve Spurrier put the players through a nearly three hour workout. The turnout is believed to be the largest ever for a Gamecock practice.


"There was a wonderful turnout. I appreciate (the fans) coming out," said Spurrier. "I asked some of the people who have been around here longer than I have if they had ever seen that many people here to watch a practice. I think it's the largest to watch practice since I've been here."

Following the upbeat first practice, Spurrier felt his squad got a lot accomplished and re-iterated his feelings that this year's team has a chance to contend for an SEC Championship this season.

"We did a lot and got a lot of plays (put in) - a lot of throws and a lot of runs. I think it was a pretty decent start," said Spurrier. "We didn't do all that much as far as hitting tonight, but there's no question our team is a better looking team. We've got bigger, stronger, faster guys than we've had the first two years."

Freshmen are always the center of attention during the first practice, and a number of highly touted newcomers stepped into the spotlight on Saturday night. Just like the fans, Spurrier was curious to see what his Top 10 recruiting class could do. Being the quarterback guru he is, Spurrier was focused primarily on the offensive skill positions, and he was pleased with the freshmen receivers, saying, "They can run, and they all look pretty good."

On the other end of some of those passes was quarterback Stephen Garcia. The dual-threat freshman probably had the most eyes on him, and he did not disappoint with several nice throws. While many fans expressed excitement about Garcia's potential on the night, Spurrier was more reserved in describing his newest pupil.

"Stephen did okay," he said. "He threw the ball around decently, nothing spectacular. For Garcia's first time, he did some things."



Freshman quarterback Stephen Garcia made his practice debut with the Gamecocks on Saturday night.


Spurrier declined to handicap the battle for back up quarterback, but he noted that Chris Smelley made progress over the summer.

"I think Smelley's improved," he said. "I think his passing is a lot better. He's still got a little bit of a ways to go, as they all do. I think Chris looked much better."

Missing from the quarterback rotation Saturday night was starter Blake Mitchell, who was one of a handful of players suspended from practice for violating team rules by missing too many classes. When asked if he was disappointed that his senior quarterback, supposedly a leader on the team, would be so irresponsible, Spurrier delivered a harsh message.

"It was disappointing," he said, "but he's done some disappointing things before. It doesn't shock me, let's put it that way."

Mitchell will sit out Sunday night's practice, and return on Monday. Also sitting out were Kenrick Ellis, Carlos Thomas, Terrance Campbell, Chris Hail and Bobby Wallace. The sextet ran sprints and did other exercises during practice. Also missing were Dustin and Jordin Lindsey, who have been suspended for five practices, and were not on the practice field.


Boyd Pleased With First Practice

After rushing for 823 yards and 8 touchdowns a year ago and leading all SEC running backs in receiving with another 406 yards and 2 touchdowns, senior running back Cory Boyd is expected to be one of the key pieces in the Gamecock offense this season. He's also one of the undisputed leaders of the 2007 Gamecocks, and following Saturday night's opening workout, the veteran tailback was pleased with what he saw from his teammates.

"It was a good practice today. Some of the freshmen stepped up and played very well. We've still got a long ways to go, but we're coming along, and we're glad to have our fans out here," said Boyd. "Everybody was upbeat, and everybody just wanted to get out here and show the coaches that they worked hard during the summer and can do some things."

With several talented newcomers joining the roster this fall and the Gamecocks expected to field their deepest team in years, Boyd believes there will be good competition across the board for positioning on the depth chart.

"Everybody feels as though they've got an open spot that they (can win), and they're trying to make things happen. Everybody's getting a chance," said Boyd.

During the first two years of the Steve Spurrier era, USC's goal was simply to win more games than they lost, but the team is clearly raising the bar this year and aiming for the first SEC Championship in school history. Following an intense summer of voluntary workouts that featured the best attendance of Spurrier's tenure, Boyd noticed an increased intensity level on Saturday night and stated that the team knows what ultimate goals they are working towards in practice.

"You definitely see the intensity level going up. The attendance during the summer was very good. Everybody's up-tempo. It's great to see that. We always have the naysayers, but at the same time, we feel as though we can get the job done out here," said Boyd. "We know exactly what we need to do. We know what our goals are. We‘ve just got to go out here and execute every time we‘re out here and maximize our opportunities."


Notes:

- Quintin Richardson's suspension has been lifted, and he is practicing with the team. Richardson was suspended following his arrest on marijuana possession. Prior to the arrest, Richardson was stabbed several times in the back.

- Spurrier continued his tradition of voting Duke, his former team, 25th in the USA Today Coaches' Poll. The selection drew some criticism, but Spurrier dismissed it, saying, "They gave us some very nice publicity. They had two guys that thought I shouldn't do it, but the rest of them didn't have any problem with it."

- Freshman linebacker Melvin Ingram missed practice due to a death in the family.

- The Gamecocks will have Media Day on Sunday, followed by an evening practice that will be open to the public. The practice will be the last one open to the public until the scrimmages.


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