Spurrier names his QB

jperson@thestate.com April 24, 2008 

Spring_JB07

QB Tommy Beecher throws a pass in the first quarter of the annual Garnet and Black Spring Game at Williams-Brice Stadium.

JEFF BLAKE/JBLAKE@THESTATE.COM — The State

Tommy Beecher has not started a game since 2004, when he was a 17-year-old high school senior leading his school to a state championship in North Carolina.

But if South Carolina's season began today, Beecher would be the Gamecocks' starter.

That's what USC coach Steve Spurrier told Gamecock Club members in Laurens County on Tuesday — three days after saying the quarterback race was too close to call.

Beecher, who will be a redshirt junior in the fall, has appeared in six games at quarterback for the Gamecocks, completing 16 of 25 passes for 194 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. The right-hander from Concord, N.C., began the spring No. 2 on the depth chart behind Chris Smelley, who was 4-2 as a starter in 2007.

But Beecher made the most of his increased reps after freshman Stephen Garcia was suspended for the second consecutive spring. Beecher and Smelley played at the same level during the Gamecocks' scrimmages. But Beecher performed better in the spring game on a day when both quarterbacks struggled.

"We graded all the scrimmages and practices and Tommy did well. He's done good things," USC assistant quarterbacks coach David Reaves said Wednesday. "He knows our offense and going into summertime and fall camp, he'll be No. 1."

Spurrier is out of the country on vacation and could not be reached for comment. Reaves said although the competition will resume in preseason camp, Spurrier wanted to name a starter.

"Anything can happen. We'll see how they work. This summer is very important for these guys," Reaves said. "But coach wanted to name a No. 1 guy and Tommy earned it."

Though the 6-foot-2, 227-pound Beecher threw three interceptions Saturday, that was two fewer than Smelley's total. Beecher completed 9 of 20 passes for 131 yards and a touchdown before sitting most of the second half.

Beecher also carried three times for 32 yards.

Reaves praised Beecher's athletic ability, saying he has "good feet" and the strongest arm among the four quarterbacks who played Saturday.

Beecher was the first quarterback Spurrier signed after arriving at USC prior to the 2005 season.

Beecher, whose only other Division I scholarship offer was from I-AA Richmond, redshirted his first year and saw his most action last season as the holder for placekicks.

Meanwhile, Smelley said he was looking forward to putting Saturday's performance — 13-of-30 passing for 219 yards and five first-half picks — behind him.

"That's been the thing I've been trying to do: Get it out of my system and just forget about it and get ready for the summer," Smelley said. "I didn't think it was an accurate (reflection) of my spring."

Reaves said Smelley and Beecher looked better the first 14 practices than they did in the spring game. Spurrier challenged his quarterbacks, saying he was not certain they understood the commitment level required to be successful.

"I know we can all work harder. That's what we're going to do this summer," Beecher said after Saturday’s spring game. "I know Chris is real excited and I'm real excited about getting with the receivers and working hard with them, getting stronger and faster. We're excited about the team we're going to have next year.

"We have all the talent we need. It's just executing."

For the second consecutive year Beecher received the Andrew Sorensen Scholar-Athlete Award given to the player with the highest grade point average. Beecher, an actuary mathematics major, also received an award this semester within USC’s mathematics department.

Reaves said Beecher and Smelley possess strong leadership skills.

"Those guys are good guys and are not going to do anything to hurt the team," he said.

Beecher, who was 31-6 as a starter at Concord High and led the Spiders to the 3A title in his final game, is taking things in stride. He sounded unconcerned when asked what impact Garcia would have on the competition if and when he returns from suspension in mid-August.

"We'll see what happens. It's just one of those things I can't control," Beecher said. . "I'm just going to do the best that I can."

Reach Person at (803) 771-8496.

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