USC's Elliott is in familiar territory

Camden native, new line coach grew up watching the Gamecocks, now aims to lead them to new heights

jperson@thestate.comMarch 24, 2010 

In addition to the different blocking scheme and new running plays, Hutch Eckerson noticed something else during his first meeting with Shawn Elliott - his Southern accent.

South Carolina's first-year offensive line coach and run game coordinator grew up in Camden and attended Gamecocks games as a child when his father, a former highway patrolman, directed traffic outside Williams-Brice Stadium.

"He's a local guy and he understands what the Gamecocks are about, and what we're trying to do around here and our history. I think that's important," said Eckerson, a tackle from Lumberton, N.C.

"It's just not some guy coming in here and (he) doesn't really know the history of the team. We're trying to win an SEC championship around here, and he knows that we've been trying to do that forever."

Elliott was hired in January to replace Eric Wolford, a Midwesterner who left USC after one season to become the coach at Youngstown State in his Ohio hometown.

"I like Wolf. But he's gone," Eckerson said. "Elliott's here, and I'm happy for that."

The word nearly everyone uses to describe the 36-year-old Elliott is "intense." Quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus called him a "football-head."

"He's like all of us. We come to work every day and the biggest thing we like to do is get together and start talking ball immediately," Mangus said Tuesday.

"He's very passionate about the offense. He's very passionate about what he does and the way he teaches, and I think that will rub off positively on our team, and definitely on the offensive linemen."

Elliott played at Appalachian State and had spent his entire coaching career at his alma mater before Steve Spurrier called him the day after the Papajohns.com Bowl and offered him the job.

Elliott inherits a line that yielded 37 sacks last season, tied with LSU for most in the SEC, and was the brunt of much criticism - and not just from fans.

"He's got his hands full coaching these guys," Spurrier said Tuesday when asked about Elliott. "But they're coming around, and we're doing some good things here and there."

Elliott watched the Gamecocks' lackluster 20-7 loss to Connecticut in the bowl game, but said he arrived on campus without preconceived notions about the linemen.

"I walked into a new job. To make judgments on previous film, it was unfair. So I don't make any judgments," he said. "I'll judge after the spring when our 15 days are done. Then I'll make my assessment."

Looking to improve a run game that has been the SEC's worst the past three years, Elliott said he and the offensive staff wanted to find something they would be known for - and decided to emphasize the inside-zone run plays Appalachian State has thrived on.

The scheme is similar to the one run by Byrnes High, where incoming tailback Marcus Lattimore rushed for 1,898 yards last fall and was a Parade All-American and the nation's No. 1 tailback prospect, according to Rivals.

"If it fits his run game, great. But I want it to fit our football team," Elliott said. "We're not putting this in to fit one individual here or one individual there."

Elliott said the occasional hiccups USC has experienced while installing the scheme this spring are normal.

"I think any time you bring a new system or a new run concept to them, it makes them all a little bit passive," he said. "As we get further into this, you're going to see guys that are really going to show off their athleticism."

He pointed to left tackle Jarriel King as an example: "He can become a force to be reckoned with if he just understands the concept of the speed of these plays," Elliott said.

The 6-foot-5, 310-pound King has reclaimed the starting job he lost at the end of last season when he struggled with a shoulder injury and a concussion. The other starters this spring have been Eckerson, guards Terrence Campbell and Garrett Chisolm and center T.J. Johnson, who started every game at guard in 2009.

King said Elliott's drills are strenuous, but he likes his new coach.

"I feel really, really good about him," he said.

Not to mention his local knowledge.

Reach Person at (803) 771-8496.

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