Gamecocks kick off spring practice

Fans, former players and even a legendary basketball coach came out to see the first day of South Carolina's spring football practice on Thursday. The Gamecocks look to address many questions in the spring camp, including the lingering quarterback quandary. For more details, read below.


Maybe Thursday March 5, 2009 will be remembered one day as the moment everything started to go right for the South Carolina Gamecock football team. Maybe when the team is hoisting the SEC Championship Trophy in Atlanta one day fans will be able to point back to this day as the day things changed.

After all, what team can't be ready to get things going in the right direction after being addressed by NCAA basketball coaching legend Bobby Knight.

Knight, who was in town for the night's game between USC and Tennessee, stopped by the practice field off Bluff Road to speak to the team prior to their first practice of the season. For USC coach Steve Spurrier, the address was one he hopes will get his team motivated to play.

"Bobby Knight came by and said a few words to the team. I've known him a little bit over the years, and I always respected the way he competes. He's a competitor and he demands his players give all they got," Spurrier said. "And hopefully we can get our guys at a very highly competitive level. I'm not quite sure we've done that yet so we're in the process of hopefully doing it real soon."

With Knight on the field, Spurrier was in more of a mood to discuss the pending basketball game than the first day of practice.

"It was just typical first day of spring ball. But the real game's getting ready to start in about an hour over at the Colonial Center. So hopefully our fans and everybody's fired up to watch the Gamecocks hopefully beat Tennessee tonight," Spurrier said. "I guess the Eastern Division's on the line. We haven't had a game with something on the line around here in a while. It's one of the biggest games in a long time."

Much like his hardwood counterparts, Spurrier clearly hopes his team is in a similar situation in the coming fall – one game away from claiming the SEC Eastern Division crown.

The biggest puzzle piece the team will have to work on in order to be in that position is the quarterback spot, where the Gamecocks return a very thin depth chart. With former starter Chris Smelley transferring to Alabama in the offseason, the Gamecocks only return one player with meaningful game experience.

After winning the starting job for the Outback Bowl in January, quarterback Stephen Garcia quickly found himself on the bench after committing four turnovers by halftime. But Spurrier is hopeful that the Tampa native will be able to get a better grip of the offense as he goes through his first spring practice since arriving in Columbia.

"This would be his first spring if he doesn't get in trouble tonight. He got one day in last year before he had his little episode. So hopefully he'll make it after the break and be here ready to go," Spurrier said. "The whole team has got a ways to go. The attitude's been very good, the guys are excited."

Tight end Weslye Saunders says he's already seen the change in Garcia, who has shown during the winter he is committed to the team and the system.

"Garcia, he's been in the film room a whole lot this offseason and it's paying off. He's reading the coverages well, throwing the ball where it's supposed to be," Saunders said. "You know everybody's arm is a little rusty, but that will get better over time."

While Thursday's practice was the only one the team will have before going on spring break, Spurrier knows his team has plenty of chances to get better before they begin his sixth season of work in Columbia. "We've got good coaches and good players. And we're anxious to see what happens," Spurrier said. "We've got a lot of work to do between now and N.C. State, but we've got a chance, no question about that."

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