The signs were there as early as August 8th when South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier met with the media to discuss the upcoming season.
“We’re looking forward to the year,” Spurrier said. “We know we have a chance for a good year, but we don’t know if we’ll have a good year. I think our coaches understand all of that. We’re really looking forward to seeing what this team can achieve this season. We know it’s not going to be easy. The schedule doesn’t really favor us, but that’s OK.”
Of course, Spurrier has never been known to be a coach who pulls punches when talking about his own team. There’s no false pretense. If Spurrier thinks his team will struggle, he will say so. If he thinks his team will be good, he’ll say so.
It’s refreshing … although sometimes fans don’t want to believe what they are hearing from their own coach … except in this case. South Carolina fans want to believe this will be the year the Gamecocks make the SEC championship game, and win it.
“We have an excellent running back, one of the best in the nation if not the best, and some good guys behind him,” Spurrier said. “A lot of people don’t really know how good of a running back Kenny Miles is as well as Brandon Wilds. We have a chance and a lot of guys have to come around for us, but we’ve got a pretty good team. I don’t know if we have a great team. We have to play our opponents and find out where (we) are.”
The excellent running back Spurrier was referring to is junior Marcus Lattimore, who is returning from a devastating knee injury.
“We hope we can have more balance, but you just don’t know how the game progresses,” Spurrier said. “We’re playing Navy last year, and I hope we can pitch it around and run it around. Next thing I know we can’t pitch it at all. We’re in a tight ball game and we hand it to Marcus 30 to 40 times. You’re foolish if you pitch it around and nothing good is happening. I think we can be more balance this year, but we have to wait and see if we can.”
For Lattimore, the wait to get back on the football field has been interminable.
“Just waiting; the limitations I had. I had to wait to run, wait to cut, wait to spin, and wait to do certain things in the weight room. It was just real frustrating because I know I can do it, but I knew it was for my benefit if I just waited it out and gave my graft time to heal. It just feels great now,” Lattimore said.
“It’s been a long time. A long time since I’ve been at practice and done anything football related. It’s just a blessing to be back out there with the guys. Not even just doing anything but just being back out there, I’m just grateful. It’s a great feeling. I feel good. I know it’s a long process, but my knee feels great. I’m just taking it day by day, and it’s working.”
The Gamecocks held scrimmages last Saturday and were back at work Monday and twice on Tuesday.
“Today’s practice was so-so,” Spurrier said after Monday’s session. “Some guys who did well last week in the scrimmage didn’t do very well today, which is our history. One guy has a good day, good showing, and then doesn’t do very well the next time. We’ve got to learn how to repeat your performances day after day.”
But things improved on Tuesday.
“We had a decent practice today,” Spurrier said after the Tuesday’s first workout. And he gave an indication of just what the Gamecocks will feature this season in addition to the outstanding running game.
“We will see a lot of two tight ends,” Spurrier said. “Our receivers have not gotten much attention, which is justified, but we’re hitting more balls around here than we ever have.”
One man who has impressed early has been freshman Shaq Roland, a 6-foot-2, 180-pounder out of Lexington, S.C. Roland joins a wide receiver group that already features Ace Sanders, D.L. Moore and speedy Damiere Byrd.
“Shaq Roland has a knack for going up and getting it at the last moment. He has the ability to get it at the highest point,” Spurrier said.
Spurrier announced that the Gamecocks would scrimmage Wednesday night at Williams-Brice Stadium beginning at 7:30 p.m. That scrimmage will be open to the public and will be the final open practice of fall camp.
“We want to turn the lights on and maybe get some fans out,” Spurrier said. “We want to try to find out who our best ballplayers are. It will be the last one of the preseason that is open to the public. We’ll start closing up (practices) and game planning (for Vanderbilt) after Wednesday night.”
Expectations are running high for this South Carolina team.
“I came out of the Dodie Cafeteria yesterday and one guy that works on campus said, `Hey coach, are we going to have a winning record this year?’ I said, `Winning record? Our goals have gone past a winning record,’ but I started thinking that’s probably what you used to say around here. That was the question. I hadn’t heard it in a long time,” Spurrier said.
“That’s 7-6. If we go 7-6, that wouldn’t be a very good year for us. We’ve sort of built it up. Fortunately we haven’t had a loser here. Had a .500 year a while back. We’ve got better players and maybe better assistant coaches too. I told our chaplain Adrian Despres, ‘you and I have been here since we were 6-6 and 7-6, so it’s nothing you and I are doing. It’s these assistant coaches.’ … ‘He said you’re right.’”
There he goes again — The Head Ball Coach saying exactly what’s on his mind.