Expectations soar for Spurrier, South Carolina
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Bit by bit, Steve Spurrier has added pieces to South Carolina's roster and now has the kind of football team he loves to coach: One with reliable receivers, a dependable run game and a defense he can count on to get him the ball back.
Spurrier landed the nation's No. 1 recruit this year in South Pointe defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, adding to the program's momentum.
Things began to click last fall in Spurrier's sixth season as his Gamecocks won nine games, beat a No. 1 team for the first time in school history and reached the Southeastern Conference title game.
Now expectations are soaring -- some seven months before kickoff.
Spurrier embraces the excitement, saying signing players "like Jadeveon ups our expectations," which is exactly what he wants to do.
"We want to raise expectations as high as we can around here and achieve the SEC championship or more in the coming three or four years," Spurrier said.
That's far cry from Spurrier's attitude following the 2007 season when Gamecocks opened 6-1 and rose to No. 6 in the country, then fell flat on their faces with five consecutive defeats. Spurrier didn't even get a bowl trip to plan for that year and even considered letting somebody else try their hand at turning the Gamecocks around.
But instead of leaving Spurrier revamped his staff, hiring younger assistants and began keeping South Carolina's top high school players at home. After losing Summerville High receiver A.J. Greene to Georgia and Bamberg-Ehrhardt defensive end Da'Quan Bowers to Clemson -- both projected top 5 NFL draft picks -- as Spurrier did following the 2007 season, the Gamecocks have signed the past three "Mr. Football" winners in the Palmetto State.
Spurrier inked defensive back Stephon Gilmore, running back Marcus Lattimore and Clowney.
"That's good for us, that's good for the University of South Carolina," Spurrier said. "Our process of being a top team in the conference has taken some steps in the right direction."
Spurrier likes the makeup of his team.
He's got a senior quarterback to lead the offense in Stephen Garcia. Although coach and player haven't always been on the same page, Garcia will enter this season as the SEC's returning leader in passing yards. Receiver Alshon Jeffery, who spurned Southern Cal and Tennessee two years ago for the Gamecocks, had 88 catches for 1,517 yards, the SEC's top yardage total last year.
Lattimore should again anchor the ground game. The freshman ran for 1,197 yards and 19 touchdowns and was probably the biggest reason why South Carolina posted nine victories for just the third time in 117 seasons of football.
Clowney, who turned 18 on Monday, could be the dynamic face of next year's defense, which led the league in sacks last fall. The 6-foot-6, 250-pound defensive end has strength, speed and determination that was coveted by coaches throughout the SEC.
Clowney said Spurrier's program was where he felt most at home and thought best had a chance to make his mark. It also didn't hurt that South Carolina's defense already features two of Clowney's high school teammates in Gilmore and DeVonte Holloman.
"When you're (18) years old and you've got to find a place to spend the next three or four years, you want it to be as smooth of a transition as possible. What better than to surround yourself with your friends?" ex-South Pointe coach Bobby Carroll said.
South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward likes Clowney's demeanor and is confident he'll shrug off the wild hype he'll hear from those around him and settle in to work.
"He'll help us do what we want to do here," Ward said. "And that's win a championship."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press
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