The South Carolina football team – ranked No. 9 in the coaches preseason poll – is in the midst of three consecutive 11-win seasons and three consecutive top-10 finishes after finishing No. 4 last season. With that, fans’ expectations have risen.
That on display Sunday as South Carolina held Fan Appreciation Day at the Colonial Life Arena. Fans were excited to get up close and personal interaction with the players they support on Saturdays during the fall.
Camden resident Martin Pruett, a longtime supporter of the USC woman’s soccer program, had daughters Samantha and Elizabeth with him. Pruett routinely attends Fan Appreciation Day but has never gotten in line to get football player and coaches autographs until this year. He doesn’t expect much drop off from what he has seen.
“I think overall expectations for the program have risen, given the fact that we’ve won 11 games three years in a row,” Pruett said. “I don’t think it matters who is here now. The expectation is they reload. They should be good enough to equal or to better what they’ve achieved previously.”
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Supporters young and old believe the Gamecocks are a program that has arrived, and expectations now center on winning an SEC championship or appearing in a BCS bowl.
“I think this is the season that we’ve been waiting for,” Jacob Nixon said. “I know we lost players like Connor Shaw, Jadeveon Clowney and Bruce Ellington, but I truly think this is the season we can go all the way with Dylan (Thompson), Mike (Davis) and that offensive line. I’m not worried about the defense, they’ll be OK.”
Football coaches, defensive backs, linebackers, wide receivers and running backs met visitors on the arena floor. The quarterbacks, kickers and offensive line were on the concourse with other fall sports teams: cross country, men and women’s soccer and volleyball.
That seemed to open things up and let fans roll through the lines rather quickly in the hour-and-a-half event. Plus, it gave the non-revenue sports a chance to get more traffic with fans not solely focused on football.
“I like the way they did things this year,” Deborah Harris of Lexington said. “We came last year and we didn’t get to see near as many players as we did this season. I’m excited and ready for Aug. 28 (the opening game against Texas A&M) to get here.”
The support was not lost on the players. Several engaged the supporters with small talk and held babies for photograph opportunities as long as it was done quickly and didn’t slow the lines. The longest lines of the day seemed to be for the running backs and tight ends that were grouped together. Running back Mike Davis found time to take a video of one young fan who was demonstrating his version of “The Sprinkler” dance move.
Davis was appreciative of the fan support shown in his three years at South Carolina.
“It’s a great day,” Davis said. “We try to give back to our fans that come out and support us. We want to come out and support them and show our appreciation. This shows (the season) is getting very close. Our fans show they appreciate us, so we can out here to do whatever we can for them.”
Davis tweeted after the event: “Thanks all fans that came out today. We truly appreciate everything you do for us.”