Ask Tori Gurley a question — any question — and the answer invariably comes back to what he can do for the USC football team.
The sophomore wide receiver is big — 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds — but he’s not so big on talking about his skills. He would rather place whatever he can do this season in the context of winning games for the Gamecocks, who open the season Thursday night against Southern Miss at Williams-Brice Stadium.
“Individually, I want to be the best player I can be,” Gurley said. “I’ve dedicated this season to learning more about football and becoming a better special-teams player as well as a better receiver. With that mentality, I feel I can help the team and make a play anytime I’m on the field.”
The former Rock Hill High standout in football and basketball made plenty of plays last season as a redshirt freshman. He played in all 13 games and started five of them, catching 31 passes for 440 yards, a 14.2-yard average. He also caught a pair of touchdown passes, one apiece against Georgia and Clemson.
Those numbers could have been better if not for a little tough luck. In the first two games, Gurley had three touchdown receptions called back because of penalties.
“We learned a lot from those plays that were called back,” he said. “Alshon (Jeffery) later on went on to score on those same plays that were called back on me. As long as I get a few of those breaks (this season), I’ll be OK.”
Receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. believes Gurley, who is nursing a quad injury, is going to improve this season.
“He’s a little banged up, but he’s getting a little smarter and he’s getting a little more comfortable in the offense,” Spurrier Jr. said. “That’s allowing him to use his strength to his benefit.”
Gurley credited Spurrier Jr. for much of his progress.
“He’s so hard on us, but individually he’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever been around. I’ve learned so much in a short time,” he said.
USC enters the Southern Miss game as a 14-point favorite, something that in large part can be attributed to a talented, veteran defense. But the Gamecocks appear to have more offensive weapons as well, led by a deep receiving corps fronted by Jeffery and Gurley, and a running game energized by highly touted freshman Marcus Lattimore.
There is even a newcomer pushing junior quarterback Stephen Garcia, who threw for 2,862 yards and 17 touchdowns last season; freshman Connor Shaw will get snaps against the Eagles, coach Steve Spurrier has said.Gurley was a prominent target for Garcia last season, something Gurley attributed to his size. He liked that Garcia could find him when he was matched up against smaller cornerbacks.
“We always have a guy going deep and another guy underneath. So the big play is something that catches a lot of folks’ eyes,” Gurley said. “When you come down with one or two of those jump balls, then you’re going to get the confidence to continue to throw it downfield. All of our receivers have the capability of stretching the field and making big plays.”
That depth at receiver, which also includes D.L. Moore, DeMario Bennett, Jason Barnes, DeAngelo Smith, Lamar Scruggs and Ace Sanders, means the competition for playing time will be fierce.
“It keeps you from being complacent. You can go out there and make a catch, (but) there’s a guy behind you that can do the same thing or even better,” Gurley said. “It keeps you very humble and brings the hard hats out of us to come out and work extremely hard to be the best player we can be for Carolina.”