Gamecocks kick off fall camp

The 2008 Gamecocks practiced for the first time Friday night in front of several thousand fans. The session came as close to a big game atmosphere as is possible for a preseason practice, with fans tailgating and vendors selling peanuts and drinks. There was plenty of action on the field as well, with several new players, new-look players, and new position players drawing most of the interest.

Although it was touted as the first real practice, and as such brought out dignitaries like track and field coach Curtis Frye and basketball coach Darrin Horn, the Friday evening session was actually the second workout of the day for the Gamecocks. Steve Spurrier had the players go through a walkthrough Friday morning to get a head start on the season. The walkthrough did not involve much in the way of physical work, but the mental effect is what Spurrier was looking for.

"You can come out here without a football and jump around and get in formations and all that kind of stuff," he explained. "It's pretty good stuff. Nobody gets hurt and gets hit. Those walkthroughs are beneficial."

When they hit the field for the real practice, albeit in helmets and shorts only, Spurrier was very pleased with the players' "hustle." Of course, most of the crowd that gathered was not there to see hustle. They were there to see if Tommy Beecher, named the starting quarterback following spring practice, has what it takes to succeed in the SEC. One day in, Spurrier is pleased, praising Beecher for his offseason work and saying he "threw the ball pretty doggone well."

"He's going into his fourth year here," noted Spurrier. "He's about as knowledgeable as any quarterback I've ever had, and I think he's got a chance."

Spurrier was not as happy with the rest of the passing game. Backup quarterbacks Chris Smelley, Stephen Garcia, and Aramis Hillary were termed "errant," and Spurrier continues to search for receiver depth behind starters Kenny McKinley and Dion LeCorn.

"The receivers dropped a few, but there were some good plays," he said. "C.C. Whitlock was encouraging. I saw him running around a lot better tonight for some reason tonight than he did in spring practice. We've got to find somebody besides Kenny to throw to, I know that. Hopefully, Dion should be fine, but those other guys like Matt Clements and Joe Hills need to come around."

There were several position changes on the first day of practice. The biggest surprise – literally – was projected defensive lineman Jarriel King making his much anticipated Gamecock debut at offensive tackle. Defensive coaches predicted King could be an immediate contributor for them, but Spurrier saw potential for King on offense and pulled rank.

"I felt like we needed a big, strong guy on the offensive line who could maybe push somebody around and not get pushed around so much," he said. "At some point the head coach needs to try to make it fair, so I'm trying to make it fair. Jarriel's a big strong guy over there, and I think he's got a chance to be a heck of an offensive left tackle."

Looking at other changes, as expected, former wide receiver Larry Freeman spent the day at linebacker. Another new arrival on defensive was former fullback Clark Gaston. Gaston was not expected to contribute on offense, so he is getting a look on the defensive line.

Linebacker Melvin Ingram, mentioned by Spurrier as a candidate to move to fullback, instead practiced on the defensive line, working at both end and tackle.

"We felt like Melvin's sort of grown into a D-lineman," said Spurrier. "It's hard for him to get much under 280, so I think that will be a good spot for him."

New USC President addresses football team

New University President Harris Pastides officially took over on Friday, and spent his first day meeting with various city, student, and athletic groups. Among those he visited was the football team, and he spoke to players before practice. He talked about what he expects of them as student-athletes and representatives of the University and the effort level it takes to succeed. He later recounted to reporters what he told the players.

"Just like in everything else we do as a Carolina family, we try to compete at the highest level," he said. "Whether you're playing a nationally ranked opponent or someone from in-state that's not so well ranked, you give that 110% effort."

"They listened," he added, somewhat surprised, "they didn't get up and walk away, they were most respectful so I couldn't be more excited about the countdown to August 28th."

Despite being at Carolina for 10 years, he still expressed wonder at the turnout Friday night.

"It's amazing," said Pastides. "I look around and I say, ‘These people have a lot of other things they could do tonight.' It's unparalleled and unrivaled that I've seen. I've heard there are great football schools all around the SEC, but I think ours rivals all of them."

Pastides said since coming to the University, the only time he has missed a football game was when travel precluded it. He expects to continue to be a regular now that he is the president. This comes from a man who admits he never followed college football until he came to the South. Pastides grew up in Queens, New York, where he played baseball and basketball and was a Giants fan.

"When I came down here and joined a Southeastern Conference school, I saw the double loyalty of both loving a university and loving an athletics team," he said. He went on to say that he hopes to be able to perform the ceremonial coin toss before the N.C. State game as a way of kicking off his tenure on the right note.


- Offensive lineman Heath Batchelor and defensive tackle Ladi Ajiboye were both suspended from two practices for what Spurrier termed "academic woes." With the morning walkthrough counting as the first practice and the evening session the second, the pair will return Saturday night.

- Sophomore tight end Weslye Saunders looked noticeably slimmer than he did last season, when he had a lot of baby fat. Spurrier was asked how much weight Saunders lost, and he joked, "He hasn't lost too much, but he's readjusted the weight better than last year."

- Freshman punter Ryan Doerr drew praise from Spurrier for his punting, leading the coach to wonder aloud, "Who knows if he might be our punter?"

- This year Spurrier broke his long-standing tradition of voting Duke 25th on his Coaches' Poll ballot, in tribute to the school that gave him his first college head coaching job. He was criticized last year for the tradition, and received a call asking him to stop. "I was asked by the head of the American Football Coaches' Association, Grant Taft, a man I admire and respect," said Spurrier. "He said, ‘I would appreciate it if you wouldn't vote for Duke to keep the integrity of the poll alive,' so I went with him."

- The Gamecocks practice again Saturday night at 7:30. Contrary to earlier reports, the practice will be open to the public. "We'll keep it open until we start doing something halfway sneaky," explained Spurrier.

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