“Commit, persist, empower, sacrifice,
Lead, follow, or get out of the way.”
-------------------------------- ALL OR NOTHING H.C.
After 31 wins in three seasons, South Carolina is thought to have turned the corner. As Steve Spurrier has pointed out, the Gamecocks expect to win the close games now, instead of hoping to win them, as in the past; there are no more “Can we do this?” expressions when the lead shrinks to two points and the seconds are ticking away.
What was the cause of the switch? Just time for the proverbial worm to turn? Stars aligned?
I think it was because the Gamecocks had the calming influence of a team leader, someone who stepped in from Day 1 and was so talented, on and off the field, that the rest immediately lined up behind him. I’m speaking of Marcus Lattimore.
Even without Lattimore playing, his presence on the sideline and in the locker room was enough for the Gamecocks to play at a different level. It was never so much a “Win it for Marcus” attitude when he was hurt the past two seasons as it was a “Win it with Marcus” attitude since he enrolled.
USC played more confidently, perhaps because it knew it had No. 21 in the backfield, ready to get the Gamecocks out of a jam and win the big game. Perhaps it was because they knew that Lattimore, no matter what he does the rest of his life, is going to be a success just because of the kind of person he is. That kind of presence resonates among young people – to see one of their own so polished, so great but yet so humble, inspires.
But now what?
Lattimore is gone, his image and effect of that image still lingering in the form of great expectations in terms of wins and losses. USC definitely has the talent to reach those lofty goals.
Does it have the leadership?
The Gamecocks have leaders. There are several on the team and thousands in the fanbase who would follow Connor Shaw into Hell. Victor Hampton is bidding to replace the mouthpiece and emotional sparkplug that was D.J. Swearinger. Jadeveon Clowney, with his sheer ability, can’t help but have subjects willing to pick up his banner.
Do they have THE leader, though, the one guy they rally behind in those close games? The one who takes charge? The one who looks each of them in the eye and says, “Follow me?”
Lattimore could do that, whether it was with the quiet confidence he showed when running out the clock against Georgia or by simply looking at each of his teammates as he stood on crutches on the sideline, willing them to another victory. There was just something reassuring about his presence, whether it was in uniform or not.
That kind of talent and leadership isn’t just replaced. Lattimore came so naturally to it that it’s difficult to expect it to just happen again, same way, no hesitation.
Perhaps USC won’t need it. The Gamecocks have the straight talent to make 2013 more memorable than 2010, 2011 or 2012.
Perhaps they will need that extra bit of gumption, of passion. Who supplies it?
Follow on Twitter at @DCTheState