With South Carolina holding its first spring practice on the eve of spring break, it's tough to blame players if their thoughts drifted to Florida beaches or a week of their mother's home-cooking.
But for the Gamecocks' new players and those trying new positions this spring, Thursday's two-hour workout felt like vacation arrived a day early.
Fullback Matt Coffee was on the field for the first time since September 2008. The freshman from the Florida panhandle signed with USC last year but did not enroll until January after rehabbing a knee injury that cost him most of his senior season.
"It was horrible. I've never been out of football that long," Coffee said. "I'm ready to be out here and make some noise."
Coffee's older brother, Glen, played running back at Alabama and averaged 2.7 yards a carry last year as a rookie with the San Francisco 49ers.
Asked what advice his brother gave him following his long layoff, Coffee said: "Do what you do."
For freshman quarterback Connor Shaw, that meant trying to throw spirals though a wind that made passing difficult at times. Shaw graduated from Flowery Branch (Ga.) High a semester early and stepped immediately into the competition for the backup spot, which became vacant when Reid McCollum left the team in January.
Though Shaw's final pass was intercepted by strong safety Damario Jeffery, USC coach Steve Spurrier thought the 6-foot, 199-pound right-hander looked good.
"The ball comes out of his hand pretty nicely. He's got a quick throw," Spurrier said. "He got a lot of snaps, and he's going to continue to get a bunch of snaps."
Returning quarterbacks Zac Brindise, Aramis Hillary and Andrew Clifford also took snaps behind starter Stephen Garcia, who did not do much during the team period.
Garcia will have a few new targets to throw to. Fullback Pat DiMarco is working at tight end, while 6-5 wideout Tori Gurley is shifting to slot receiver in some sets so he and 6-4 receiver Alshon Jeffery can be on the field at the same time.
They were not paired together Thursday; Jeffery was held out after violating the athletic department's class-attendance policy. Spurrier said Jeffery would be back when practice resumes March 16 following spring break.
Middle linebacker Qua Gilchrist, the Gamecocks' third January enrollee, spent his first two months after transferring from junior college studying the defensive schemes and alignments. The Abbeville native was happy to be outside rather than in the meeting room.
"It went pretty good. It was a good learning process for me," Gilchrist said. "I did a lot of work on the (dry-erase) board, but to come out here and do it feels good."
DiMarco, one of two returning captains, said it was good to return to the field and put closure on a 2009 season that ended with a thud in Birmingham, Ala. DiMarco said the attitude at winter workouts picked up in the weeks after the 20-7 loss to Connecticut in the Papajohns.com Bowl.
"We've got it going, which is a good sign, because we were a little bit down after the UConn game. So we've got it back up," DiMarco said. "Everybody's into it. Everybody's moving around pretty good out here."
Many observers have pointed to 2010 as the Gamecocks' year to win their first SEC title. DiMarco hopes so: This is his last shot.
"I think we have a lot of potential this year to really do something that's never been done around here before," he said. "Being my senior year, I'm going to definitely put in my extra effort and extra work and get in guys' minds that this needs to be the year."
Post-practice comments from Spurrier, others
Reach Person at (803) 771-8496.