Dru Fleming stood among a thousand or more USC fans at Colonial Life Arena on Saturday afternoon.
And like everyone else, he and his wife were loaded down with Carolina posters for the 2017 Gamecocks players and coaching staff to sign.
“We’re excited,” said Fleming, who drove from Mullins to Columbia for Fan Appreciation Day. “We’re having a ball. Love coming every year, I wish they could do it more than once a year.”
The excitement for football season to begin permeated the arena, but Fleming and others are hopeful for second-year coach Will Muschamp and the Gamecocks.
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“They’ve got the talent here – more than ever,” Fleming said. “The people are in place, coaching staff and the players. (Muschamp’s) got a lot of good people around him.”
Tim Rabon, who said he’s hoping to catch some tickets for the Sept. 2 season opener against N.C. State at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, echoed Fleming’s sentiments.
“I think we’re going to improve a lot,” he said. “More talent, better strength and conditioning, it’s gonna be a lot better.”
Joe Whelchel and his wife Allison came from Liberty to visit the Gamecocks, who sat at long tables by their football positions on the floor of Colonial Life Arena. As the Whelchels lined up to see the defensive backs and cornerbacks, they both said they were glad the season was set to begin.
“We’re 6 miles from Clemson, but we love the Gamecocks,” Allison Whelchel said. “We’re excited to see the Gamecocks play. I love football season.”
“They’ve got a whole lot more potential coming in; you can see the team meshing better,” Joe Whelchel said. “I think it’s going to be a real good season.”
One fan was more excited than most to be standing in line to meet the wide receivers. Tashia Green, mother of freshman receiver OrTre Smith, drove from Mount . Pleasant to see the Wando graduate take his place among the other receivers.
“It’s kind of a surreal feeling,” Green said. “I was just telling them in the line ‘Oh, I’m so excited! Just to see him sitting there and signing autographs!’ So that was a really good feeling.”
Lahartha Phelps, Smith’s aunt, waited while Green got to see her son.
“I’ve been drafted into being a Gamecock,” said Phelps, who was decked out in a USC T-shirt and cap. “I think they’re gonna be good. Hard work pays off, and that’s all they’ve been doing, working hard. We’ll see the payoff during the season.”
One fan stood out among the throng of garnet-and-black-clad visitors on the afternoon: Joseph Richey of Gaston, who wore a Clemson National champions T-shirt and matching hat. A die-hard Tigers fan, he got Gamecocks to sign a poster for a relative in North Carolina who couldn’t attend.
For Richey, it was a family obligation.
“They actually conned me into coming here,” he said. “But I watch both seasons all year long. They’ll improve, I’ll give them that. They’re gonna come up a lot.”