Spurrier seeing attitude change among players
At the time, no one who followed South Carolina would have said the team's 31-10 drubbing in the Outback Bowl would do the team any good. The Gamecocks ended the 2008 season with three lopsided losses to Florida, Clemson and Iowa and were in tailspin to say the least.
But seven months later and a little bit of a shakeup on the coaching staff and roster later, and coach Steve Spurrier is starting to see an improved morale in his team.
"We've been here four years and I'll admit I have not done a great job of changing the attitude you must have to play like champions. We just quite haven't done it. There's no one in particular to blame, we just as a group have not got it done. Since I'm responsible for the group. we're trying some new directions," Spurrier said. "We've got some new coaches in place, our players seem to have really accepted our new coaches and bought in to some new ideas that we're doing."
Much of those new ideas center around the addition of six new coaches including Jay Graham, Jeep Hunter, G.A. Mangus, Lorenzo Ward, Eric Wolford and Craig Fitzgerald who have brought a different attitude to the team as compared to last season.
Since their arrival, player attendance in the classroom and at voluntary workouts has been on the rise as well as the team grade point average, which reached an all-time high since the records have been kept. The team averaged a 2.62 GPA last spring, the highest in school history.
"I think all of that can be attributed to our new coaches demanding, expecting and making sure the players do what they're supposed to do," Spurrier said. "We've had the best summer attendance from what I understand... We're looking forward to sort of a new era of Carolina football."
The new coaching staff has also stepped up in the area of recruiting as Spurrier has found his job easier when it comes to convincing high school students to come to Columbia for their time in college.
"I really believe that I've got maybe the best coaching staff I've ever had, and I go all the way back. The reason I say that is I've watched these guys coach through spring practice, I've watched them interact with our players, I've watched them recruit now," Spurrier said. "I've watched our guys recruit and watched interact and mingle with people. We've got coaches that can go recruit guys and get them committed and signed, and all I've got to do is shake hands with them and greet them a little bit. They can do it on their own."
Spurrier has also seen a shift in leadership roles on the team. For the first time since his arrival, the Gamecocks elected team captains following spring practice that will remain in place for the entire season. While he was worried about who the players might pick, Spurrier was pleased to see Moe Brown and Patrick DiMarco selected as offensive captains while Cliff Matthews and Eric Norwood were picked on the defensive side.
Brown has spent time working with younger receivers during the summer, and Spurrier's hope is that the senior leadership will bring the team together.
"We think we've had some very solid leadership through the summer," Spurrier said.
The biggest leadership surprise has come from a role the Head Ball Coach is pleased to see evolving. Spurrier cited the arrival of freshman players Stephon Gilmore, Devonte Holloman and Jarvis Giles during the spring semester as a good thing on the field, but it has become an even better investment off the field.
"When you get these high school kids like Stephon Gilmore and Devonte Holloman and Jarvis Giles, they come in in January and all three of them made over a 3.2. They made between a 3.2 and 3.4 grade point average, and they went to every class, every weight room, every workout and they're doing everything," Spurrier said. "You dream of having guys like this. When the freshmen are doing that then it's contagious to the other players, it really is."
Garcia ready to take over under center
Following his first full spring and summer going through team drills and workouts, Stephen Garcia appears to be ready to lead the team as the starting quarterback, according to Spurrier.
While the Florida native is known as a fleet-footed running passer, Spurrier says he has seen improvement from Garcia in his decision making ability. That is something the coach is excited to see after an up and down season last fall.
"The other day I put on our spring game and was watching the tape of it. I called Stephen that night and said, ‘You know what, you actually did pretty good in the spring game. You took your steps, had your head in the right position, one time you stepped up and hit Dion (Lecorn) on a little corner route instead of taking off running.' I said, 'Last year in the game you would have just taken off running anyway,'" Spurrier said. "It was encouraging."
With the redshirt sophomore the only returning signal caller with any experience, Spurrier is wary of asking too much from Garcia, who he hopes will be the starter in all 12 regular season games for the team this fall.
"Stephen needs to keep progressing, progressing but he does have ability to play this game. Obviously we need to keep him healthy next year," Spurrier said. "Our backup players Reid McCollum and Aramis Hillary have not taken a snap yet, but hopefully they'll be ready in case we need them."
No updates on suspended players
Spurrier said there are no new updates on the suspensions of Ladi Ajiboye, C.C. Whitlock and Kyle Nunn. The athletic department still has to meet to discuss their fate.
There is also no word on freshman running back Ben Axon, who has completed his pre-trial intervention program in Florida after being arrested for marijuana possession.
- Though they are currently not at 100 percent, Dion Lecorn and Josh Dickerson are both expected to be ready to for spring practice. Lecorn is overcoming a broken leg, while Dickerson has a cracked bone in his shoulder
- After a reporter brought up the topic of quarterback Stephen Garcia's Twitter status, Spurrier said he and the coaches would be trying "to calm that down" in the future.
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