Gamecocks go through light Saturday workout

The second night of fall practice for the Gamecocks did not go quite as smoothly as the first. Practice was not as crisp as the day before, and the session was ended about 15 minutes early to avoid the thunderstorm that drenched Columbia late Saturday night. Still, the team got in a good workout, and head coach Steve Spurrier was generally pleased with the session.

"They looked okay," said Spurrier. "It was nothing real special. It always seems the first night guys are a little sharper than the second night."

There was some news on the injury front. Tight end Jared Cook has a sprained toe, suffered in the first practice, and will miss another day or two, according to Spurrier. Also, wide receiver Matt Clements suffered a hamstring injury in Saturday's workout.

Following practice Spurrier addressed the status of a pair of 2008 signees who have not yet made it onto campus. Offensive lineman Elliot Williams did not have a high school course count towards college that he was led to believe would. Instead of enrolling in July with the rest of the freshman class, Williams is expected to enroll in January, after he retakes the appropriate course.

Tori Childers' SAT score was flagged after a significant increase from one attempt to the next. The Rock Hill, SC native will retake the test in hopes of being admitted this fall. If Childers is able to repeat a score comparable to his last one, he should be cleared to enroll.

Pepper excited about return to the field

The start of fall practice for the Gamecocks has seen the welcome return of defensive lineman Nathan Pepper from a torn ACL. The 6'1", 287-pound run-stuffer was excited to finally be able to return to practice and is ready to don full pads, despite the heat.

"I'm real happy to be out here," he said Friday night, "even in the pads. I'm ready for the heat."

Pepper was a key contributor in Carolina's first three wins of last season. He began the year at defensive tackle, but the 6'1", 287-pound run stuffer moved to end for the game against Georgia. In that contest, he played a major role in keeping the Bulldogs' running game in check and helping Carolina come away with the win. The next week, he continued to shine, intercepting a pass against S.C. State and returning it for a touchdown. However, Pepper tore his left ACL on the play, and was lost for the year.

Pepper was able to participate in some drills during spring practice, but he was limited due to the injury. The problem was not so much with the knee, but with his leg. Pepper's leg muscles atrophied while he recovered, and it has taken time for him to get his strength back to where it needs to be.

"The knee feels pretty good," he said. "This was really my first time gong full-speed on it [Friday], and it felt pretty good. I'm doing pretty good with getting [my strength] back, but it's not 100% yet. It's feeling a whole lot better than it did in the spring."

Pepper admitted that he is not quite in game shape yet, having been off the football field for almost 11 months. The fact that he is this close to being ready is a testament to his work in the offseason program. When he was asked about the grueling workouts, Pepper laughed.

"It wasn't too bad," he smiled, "but it's something that every team goes through that we have to do."

Since he is almost ready to play physically, the next step for Pepper is to be ready mentally. He acknowledged Friday that the defense was a little bit lost at times in new defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson's scheme. However, he brushed it off as first day confusion.

"For the first day we did pretty good," he said. "We've just got to get over a couple learning curves, things like that. But that's common for a first day from the years I've been here, so we've just got to keep getting better."


- As the team ran off the practice fields in anticipation of the storm, players were strongly encouraged by coaches to get to the locker room as quickly as possible. Tight ends coach Ray Rychleski probably put it most succinctly when he yelled at a player who was lagging behind. "If you get struck by lightning tonight, I will kill you!" Rychleski bellowed.

- The Gamecocks are likely to have their first scrimmage next Wednesday. The scrimmage, and all practices leading up, will be open to the public. Following the scrimmage, practices will be closed. The next practice is Sunday night at 7:30.

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