First spring practice for Spurrier since 2001

Updated: March 19, 2005, 7:41 PM ET
Associated Press

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Wearing a new white Gamecocks visor, Steve Spurrier returned to the college game Saturday, hitting the practice field for the first time as South Carolina coach.

Spurrier hadn't done this since his final spring with Florida in 2001, missing the next two years as coach of the Washington Redskins and sitting out last season after his dismissal.

Afterward, Spurrier was happy to finally begin the program's revival.

"Guys were excited. Threw the ball around a little bit. Threw some interceptions, but threw a few completions here and there," Spurrier said. "It was an OK start."

About 2,500 people showed up at Williams-Brice Stadium -- more than five months before South Carolina takes to the field for real -- to greet their newest hero and cheer even the most routine practice moments.

They clapped when Spurrier -- dressed in khaki shorts, a white shirt and black wind vest -- ran into the stadium and began working with the quarterbacks. They cheered each time the Gamecocks hit a long pass -- something people hadn't witnessed much under the more conservative attack of former coach Lou Holtz.

For Spurrier, there was no extra kick at returning to the game where he succeeded at Duke, then won six Southeastern Conference titles -- and the 1996 national championship -- with the Gators.

"It hadn't been that long. Been calling the same plays you've called for 20 years," Spurrier said.

Not everything went smoothly. During one stretch, quarterback Antonio Heffner had two fumbled snaps and Michael Rathe one. When practice ended, Gamecocks assistant David Reaves had the passers out practicing center exchanges.

And Cory Boyd, elevated to starter with the dismissal of leading rusher Demetris Summers, pulled his left hamstring during an individual drill and remained on the sidelines much of the practice.

Spurrier's first practice moved South Carolina's focus back to the football field and away from the police blotter. Since the end of last season, nine players have been arrested and Summers was kicked off the team. While no one's happy with the problems, University of South Carolina President Andrew Sorensen says he's been pleased with Spurrier's strong response.

"I'm very supportive of how he's handled all this," said Sorensen, who spoke with the players at Spurrier's behest on Friday.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press