Notes: UConn’s unity after tragedy sparks memory for Spurrier

jperson@thestate.comDecember 6, 2009 

  • Gamecocks vs. Huskies

    WHO: USC (7-5) vs. UConn (7-5)

    WHEN: 2 p.m. Jan. 2

    WHERE: Legion Field, Birmingham, Ala.

    TV: ESPN

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier can empathize with what Connecticut has gone through this season following the Oct. 18 stabbing death of cornerback Jasper Howard.

In the summer of 2001 before his final season at Florida, Spurrier lost a player when freshman fullback Eraste Autin died six days after he collapsed with heat stroke following a voluntary conditioning workout.

“He fell out and went into a coma. We lost him there,” Spurrier said Sunday after the announcement that USC would face UConn in the Papajohns.com Bowl.

“The whole team went to his funeral. I think the same way the UConn team did. You handle it the best you can, and you’ll always have that player’s memory with you as long as you live, really.”

UConn coach Randy Edsall took his entire team to Miami for Howard’s funeral.

“I think they handled it the best way that they could,” Spurrier said. “I admire the way coach Edsall and his guys handled that situation. They did everything they could to try to do it the right way.”

Secret ballot. Spurrier had a little fun when asked about his Heisman Trophy ballot.

“Let’s see, who did I vote for for the Heisman? Yeah, I voted for Jevan Snead,” said Spurrier, drawing laughs from reporters.

Spurrier created a bit of controversy in July when he initially put Snead ahead of Florida’s Tim Tebow on his preseason All-SEC first-team ballot. Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett finished as the SEC’s leading passer, while Snead was fourth and Tebow was eighth.

“That shows you how unimportant that was this summer,” Spurrier said.

USFL memories. Spurrier coached his final game with Duke at Legion Field, site of the Papajohns.com Bowl, in the 1989 All-American Bowl. He also took Florida to the SEC championship game there in 1992 and ’93.

Spurrier said he might be the only coach of a visiting team to play in back-to-back road games at Legion Field. His Tampa Bay Bandits won their regular-season finale to the Birmingham Stallions in 1984, and lost to the Stallions in the first round of the USFL playoffs.

“We used to beat the Philadelphia Stars,” Spurrier said. “But Birmingham, those guys were tough.”

Extra points. Spurrier said he did not know whether Florida State had contacted USC assistant head coach for defense Ellis Johnson about its defensive coordinator’s post. There were online reports last week that Johnson is a candidate at FSU. ...

USC is off this week for finals and will begin bowl practices Dec. 15 in Columbia. The team is scheduled to travel to Birmingham on Dec. 29. ... UConn is 0-2 against SEC teams, with losses to Kentucky (1999) and Vanderbilt (2002).

Reach Person at (803) 771-8496.

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