Spurrier optimistic about young Gamecocks

Head coach Steve Spurrier met with the media at noon on Tuesday for the final time before leading South Carolina against N.C. State Thursday evening for the 2009 season opener. The Gamecocks boast a number of young but talented faces that will be counted on to contribute early and often this season, according to Spurrier, and he is optimistic that his 2009 squad has some special intangibles.

"We're a couple of days away from kicking off the 09' football season, and we've got a good group of players here," Spurrier said as he opened up his portion of the press conference. "We all like each other, and we think we're ready to play with a lot of spirit, a lot of fight, and have a go (at our opponents) this season."

With 24 freshmen or sophomores listed on the current two-deep depth chart, the Gamecocks' roster is filled with talented but inexperienced players.

"We've got a lot of new players that will play important roles in whatever success we have this year," Spurrier stated. "I tell people that we're sort of an unknown team, because we've got a lot of new faces."

With that abundance of youth on the roster, Spurrier says several experienced players will be counted on to lead the Gamecocks at their respective units this season.

"Eric Norwood is our (only) all-conference returnee. Other than that, we do have a lot of players who have played a lot here. Cliff Matthews, one of our team captains, and Nathan Pepper, a fifth year senior at defensive tackle, have both been here a while. On the offensive line, Garrett Anderson and Lemuel Jeanpierre are our two seniors there."

Those seniors along with several other juniors have experience playing in the spotlight against tough opponents, but Spurrier stated that quite a few players will get their first taste of big time college football in the season opener against N.C. State.

"We're not young (at all of the positions), but we do have a lot of players in key positions who will be getting their first action this coming Thursday night."

As Spurrier has proclaimed on many occasions, one of the most important positions in football is quarterback and the Gamecocks will send sophomore Stephen Garcia onto the field Thursday evening as one of the young players who has a key role to play. Garcia has shown signs of why he was so highly recruited on occasion, but inconsistency was Garcia's middle name for the majority of last season. Still, USC's fifth-year head coach believes the young signal caller is much more ready to play, after finishing the preseason on the up-swing.

"We believe Stephen has made some strides and he's practiced a lot better here in the last week or so. We think he's a lot more prepared to play, so we're going to find out Thursday night. He's starting to give the plays a chance and doesn't take off running all the time. Obviously that's what we've got to have out of our quarterback. We have confidence in Stephen and hope he's going to play well."

Two of the receivers that are expected to be Garcia's popular targets this season are also on the young side of the experience pole. Those two, sophomore Jason Barnes and redshirt freshman Tori Gurley, are listed as starters for the upcoming game. Barnes is known in large part for his great game at Ole Miss last year when he hauled in two touchdown passes. Gurley possesses outstanding athleticism along with imposing size at 6-5, 227 lbs, and has had some impressive outings in the preseason practices and scrimmages.

"We've got some new receivers in there. Tori Gurley, a redshirt freshman, is one of our starters along with Moe Brown. Jason Barnes, when we are in the three wide receiver set, will be our other starter," said Spurrier before turning his attention to the new players on defense that will be expected to play up to their potential.

"Defensively, as far as some new guys, Stephon Gilmore will start at cornerback. (Strong safety) DeVonte Holloman is another young guy who's scheduled to play a lot for us."

As high school teammates, Gilmore and Holloman, led South Pointe to a state championship and were considered as two of the most heralded defensive backs in the nation last year. Gilmore will also see some time on the offensive side of the ball at quarterback in the "Cocky" formation. Holloman is expected to push for playing time early and is listed as the current backup at strong safety position behind the leader of the secondary, Darian Stewart.

"We've got some veteran guys (on the defensive side of the ball) as well like Darian Stewart, Akeem Auguste, Chris Culliver, and Eric Norwood." Stewart also plays the Spur linebacker position, and Culliver and Auguste have both been cross training at free safety and cornerback.

Although the 2009 Gamecocks are unproven on the field at this point, Spurrier remains optimistic that the returning veterans and talented young players can turn out to be something special.

"We've got some veteran guys and we've got a lot of new guys, and hopefully it will "mesh up" into us having a heck of a team."

Brown: Gamecocks establish "a new way to play"

One of the biggest themes at Tuesday's press conference was that the Gamecock team is a lot closer and more unified this year than in seasons past, and receiver Moe Brown believes that could pay off for USC on the field.

Being a senior, Brown has been on South Carolina's roster for all but one season that Steve Spurrier has been at the helm of the Gamecock program. Entering his fourth and final year with the Gamecocks, Brown claims that he's seen a big difference in the camaraderie and closeness among the Carolina players.

"When I say ‘a new way to play Gamecock football,' I mean that we're looking at it more now as a team effort," Brown began. "It really started in the offseason workouts with the bonding and stuff like that. We're just more together, and that goes for the coaches and fans as well. In order to do that, we had to establish more team unity."

One of the Gamecock units that has arguably reaped the most benefit of this new unity is the offensive line. After subpar performances in recent seasons, the line has received a shot of energy from first year offensive line coach/running game coordinator Eric Wolford, but Brown claims the line has done the necessary things off the field to set themselves up for success as well.

"(The offense linemen) have been having steak dinners and stuff like that after practices, and you can tell it's helped them operate better as a unit. The offensive linemen are staying after practice almost every day, grabbing a pizza, and just going over their checks and calls to make sure they're all on the same page. Sometimes when I get done with my FCA meeting here, I see those guys watching film and it's like 11 o'clock at night."

Brown continued on to say that perhaps the biggest motivating factor for the line's greater commitment to making themselves better is the criticism they received after streaks of poor play in previous seasons.

"I guess (the offensive line) was tired of hearing that they were the weak point of our offense, so they decided they were going to do whatever it takes to change that."

One of the bonding experiences that stood out the most, Brown says, was the team paintball event at the end of summer workouts that put players, coaches, and some staff members in a position to go out and enjoy a day off from football together.

"It was one of the most fun things that I've done in my time here as a Gamecock," said Brown of the day playing paintball. "Getting to run around and shoot coaches about thirty times with a paintball gun was quite an experience for us all. It's little things like (the paintball event) throughout the offseason that have definitely improved this team and the chemistry that we have together. We're going to try to show that on the field."

With the Gamecocks ready to back each other up on and off the field, Brown believes the team should be able to win the close games that they seemed to have let slip away in the past.

"I think that's the difference when you're in a tight game. When you know that person beside you is going to go out there and fight for you and they know you're going to fight for them, it's something special. Having that mentality, I think we're going to win a lot more games just because of the closeness we have on the team now."

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