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February 3, 2010

Stars aligning for Gamecocks

Maybe, after five years under Steve Spurrier, the USC football program has turned a corner.

SPARTANBURG - Maybe, after five years under Steve Spurrier, the USC football program has turned a corner.

And the symbol for that Tuesday wasn't the star tailback sitting at a table in a church. It was the former star tailback smiling a few feet away.

Byrnes High running back Marcus Lattimore committed to South Carolina during a ceremony at Silver Hill United Methodist Church, which was not a major surprise. But what did come as a surprise was that Lattimore has been under the advisement of Stephen Davis, who attended Tuesday's festivities.

Davis grew up three miles away and went to college at Auburn, the school Lattimore said he was leaning toward attending as recently as a couple of weeks ago.

Davis had a public falling out with Spurrier over how he was used when both the player and coach were with the Washington Redskins in 2002.

And yet, Davis was smiling as Lattimore put on a Gamecocks hat. The all-time leading rusher at Auburn endorsing a player's desire to go to South Carolina?

Who saw that coming?

The Gamecocks have seen players like Lattimore leave the state plenty of times before. A few years ago, fans were lamenting the snubs of Carlos Dunlap (Florida), A.J. Green (Georgia) Gary Gray (Notre Dame, after initially committing to USC), Adam Patterson (Michigan) ... it's a long list.

Even Alshon Jeffery initially committed to Southern California before deciding on signing day to join the Gamecocks.

And now that Lattimore is onboard, and if all goes as planned, he will be part of a skill-position triple attack the Gamecocks haven't had in years:

Lattimore in the backfield, junior Stephen Garcia at quarterback, and Jeffery, a sophomore, at wide receiver.

As for Davis, his feelings about Spurrier apparently didn't play a role in the guidance he provided Lattimore.

"Listen, man," Davis said, laughing when asked about his disagreement with Spurrier. "It doesn't matter who the coach is, how I feel about him, whatever. I think Steve Spurrier will get everything out of him. I think they'll push him. But the thing (Lattimore has) got to understand is he's got to have the will and determination to do so."

Davis admitted he put in a "little plug" for his alma mater, but it didn't sway Lattimore.

Davis became involved when one of Lattimore's cousins called him Sunday and asked him to advise Lattimore. Davis told the player that if South Carolina was the choice in his heart, he should go there.

"The only thing I kind of regret about going to Auburn (was) that there were a lot of people from here (South Carolina) that didn't get to see me play," Davis said. "But they got an opportunity to see me in the pros."

Davis played 11 NFL seasons with the Redskins, Carolina Panthers and St. Louis Rams, and was named to the Pro Bowl three times. Judging by the hype surrounding Lattimore, you would think he was on a similar path. But he demurred.

"I'm just another piece to the puzzle," Lattimore said.

Oh, really? No one in that church seemed to feel that way. Gamecock coaches evidently feel he's more than just a piece.

Davis, who knows a thing or two about what it takes to be a great running back in the SEC, was asked if Lattimore was the real deal.

"Yeah. Yeah," Davis said. "I actually saw him play when he was in the ninth grade, and he's one of the best. He's one of the best."

Davis smiled and added: "Besides me."

Lattimore recalled what Spurrier said when he called him Monday to confirm his commitment.

"He said, 'All right, my man,'" Lattimore said, drawing a laugh from the crowd.

"My man" is how Spurrier often refers to someone whose name he doesn't know. But everybody knows the name of the most highly touted recruit during the coach's USC tenure.

Spurrier might have found his man. Finally.

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