Improved player leadership encouraging in '09
It came as no surprise that Coach Steve Spurrier selected seniors Eric Norwood and Moe Brown to represent South Carolina at the SEC Media Days last week. If you asked many Carolina fans to identify two players that are leaders for the Gamecocks, more often than not their two names would be mentioned. Having two standout leaders like Norwood and Brown is good, but having a dozen or more at different positions that range in age from freshmen all the way up to seniors – well, that's something special. This year marks the first time under Spurrier that the Gamecocks may indeed have the advantage of multiple veteran leaders emerging to take ownership of the team.
The Senior Leaders That You've Heard Of
Norwood was the only Gamecock football player to be selected as a member of the Preseason All-SEC first team, but his success at South Carolina isn't just limited to the football field. He currently holds a 2.9 GPA while working on a degree in criminal justice, and has been on the Dean's List several times throughout his college career. At halftime of this year's spring game, Spurrier presented Norwood with the Harris Pastides Scholar Athlete Award for football. He is on schedule to graduate after the upcoming fall semester, taking only 3 ½ years to complete the requirements for his degree.
Norwood certainly has his priorities in order, and he should be in good company this season with several experienced defensive standouts playing alongside him.
Spurrier recently recognized Norwood, as well as Brown, for their leadership this summer, saying the leaders that have emerged this offseason are one of the reasons for optimism as USC heads into the 2009 season.
"We believe our leadership, amongst our seniors, Eric Norwood, Moe Brown, (and others)... has been very good through the summer," Spurrier said proudly during SEC Media Days. "Summer workouts have gone very well. We're excited and encouraged by the attendance of most of the players. I don't know exactly what it's been, but things have been very good. We have excellent leaders this year."
All-SEC linebacker Eric Norwood, who elected to return for his senior season instead of turning pro, is one of the most respected team leaders in recent memory at USC.
Even though his football career isn't as illustrious as Norwood's, Brown continues to be a great ambassador for both the football team as well as the university. He will be looked upon to make this season, his last with the Gamecocks, his most productive yet. But perhaps more important than the numbers Brown puts up this fall will be his job as a leader and role model for younger players to look up to.
"I'm one of the most vocal guys on the team. I go hard and lead through example. Like, when we do running drills, I make sure we finish to the line, there is no pulling up. We have to pay attention to details," Brown said of how he leads.
Norwood echoed Brown's comments, noting that the senior receiver is one of the most vocal leaders on the team and is often the one to get his teammates fired up in the locker room.
"Moe is the vocal guy. He makes the speeches in the locker room, gets the hype up and the team excited before the game. He brings it all," said Norwood of his fellow senior.
Although he was snubbed by the coaches and not selected to any of the All-SEC preseason defensive teams, safety Darian Stewart has consistently proven his talent and playmaking ability during his first three years with the Gamecocks. He enters his senior season having started the past 21 consecutive games and has contributed in 37 out of a possible 38 games during his career. Stewart, who is expected to move from Spur linebacker to strong safety this season, will be counted on to lead a young but talented secondary.
Senior center Garrett Anderson will anchor an offensive line that has had some trouble in recent years but has shown promise under new line coach Eric Wolford. With help from fellow senior Lemuel Jeanpierre, look for Anderson's experience and leadership from the center position to help set the tone for the Gamecock offensive line this year.
Defensive tackle Nathan Pepper will play his fifth year with the Gamecocks in 2009, due to a medical redshirt he was awarded after he suffered a torn ACL while returning an interception for a touchdown against South Carolina State in 2007. The defensive line is one of the deepest and perhaps most talented units on the South Carolina team this year, and Pepper, who is well respected and looked up to by his teammates, is considered the leader of that unit.
Reserve linebacker Gerrod Sinclair, one of only three fifth-year seniors on the team, has been a steady contributor on special teams throughout his career and has been a model student-athlete during his time at USC. He is well liked by his teammates and is respected as a veteran leader.
And there you have it, the seven scholarship seniors on USC's roster that get credit for being team leaders. According to Brown, while the senior class isn't a large one, each of the seven seniors contributes in a leadership role, which is a much needed change from past years.
"The difference in this year's team compared to years past is the leaders we have. There's seven seniors, and we all play a certain role. We hold each other accountable," Brown emphasized at SEC Media Days.
Still, the abundance of youth on Carolina's team has given many juniors the opportunity to rise to the occasion and help lead the team in the right direction.
Other Leaders that Have Emerged
Junior defensive end Cliff Matthews has been one player that has impressed both Spurrier as well as Strength and Conditioning Coach Craig Fitzgerald with his commitment and hard work this offseason. Matthews, although not the most vocal leader, challenges his teammates by the consistent, outstanding effort he puts forth each and every day.
Fitzgerald claims that Matthews' work ethic is superb, and describes it by saying, "You just can't keep him out of the weight room".
In May of 2009, Spurrier told the media that Matthews, along with fellow junior Pat DiMarco, had been voted as captains by the rest of the team and had emerged as role models for others to follow.
Many around the South Carolina program believe junior defensive end Cliff Matthews, one of the hardest workers on the team, is prepared to have a breakout season in 2009.
Redshirt sophomore Stephen Garcia has started showing signs this offseason of maturing and taking charge of his opportunity to play quarterback for the Gamecocks, as he remains undisputed atop the depth chart at his position. He has shown the ability to lead the offense in summer drills by having a much improved understanding of the system from top to bottom.
Spurrier is optimistic about his young signal-caller's chances of having a better season this fall, and he acknowledged during SEC Media Days how important it is for Garcia to play better this year if the Gamecocks hope to have a good season.
"Stephen Garcia has gone through his first spring practice. Now he's going through his first summer of workouts with the team. If we're to have a big year, he's got to really, really play well. He's got to play a lot better than what happened last year," Spurrier said. "Certainly experience helps (as a starting quarterback in the SEC). The ability to think clearly and make quick decisions helps. Training, experience, practice, practice, practice. All those things are very helpful."
According to Fitzgerald, Garcia and Norwood are responsible for running the team drills for the offense and defense, respectively, after the strength and conditioning coaches leave.
"When we're done with our strength and conditioning segment, then we let the players take over. Garcia runs the offense and Norwood runs the defense. Nathan Pepper takes the defensive linemen over to do d-line drills. Garrett Anderson and Lem Jeanpierre will lead o-line drills," said Coach Fitzgerald in a recent interview with GamecockAnthem.com.
With more leaders than in past years emerging for the Gamecocks, the young players who have decided to bring their talents to Columbia have many different role models from whom they are learning valuable lessons. However, the outstanding character of these young players combined with their willingness to listen and follow the leadership of others should be noted as well.
Who Says that you have to be on Scholarship to Lead the Team?
Many fans are familiar with the name Spurrier when it comes to South Carolina football, but most don't think of it in terms of the 5'6" 160 lb. senior wide receiver who busts his rear end at every practice and workout to make the team better. Scott Spurrier has given his all to the team by doing whatever has been asked of him since joining the squad as a walk-on in the spring of 2006. Last year he played on special teams in each of Carolina's 13 games.
Scott Spurrier is a player that some may have heard of because of his family name, but here's another senior leader that many probably haven't heard of.
Senior walk-on linebacker John Guerry has given South Carolina football every ounce of energy that he's had over the past four years, and he will continue to do the same for one more season. Even though he's only been in on a handful of plays in his career with the Gamecocks, Guerry remains determined to contribute to the team in whatever way he can. His leadership and dedication in helping the team have been greatly overlooked during his time as member of the football squad, but that doesn't bother the humble Columbia native.
Unlike some of their teammates, Guerry and Spurrier, who were selected as two of the ten summer workout captains this year, haven't received much recognition for their hard work and behind-the-scenes contributions to the team over the past several years. But if you asked Eric Norwood and Moe Brown, they would tell you that these two walk-ons have made a very positive impact during their time as Gamecocks.
Clearly, leaders can come in many different forms at the major D-I level of college football. South Carolina has lacked the benefit of quality veteran leadership in many past years, but thanks to the emergence of seven scholarship seniors, a handful of mature juniors, and a pair of little known walk-ons as team leaders, the Gamecocks will enter the 2009 season as a much more unified, focused squad.
According to Spurrier, that is an encouraging development for the 2009 Gamecocks.
"We're encouraged by a lot of things that have happened since the bowl game," Spurrier said. "We've had good leadership through the spring and through the summer, and hopefully we'll be a team that plays with a lot more discipline and a lot more effort this coming season. We're looking forward to it."
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