South Carolina held its first practice of the 2011 season Wednesday night, and not even the hottest Aug. 3 in the city’s history could keep more than 1,000 fans from showing up to catch the action.
“I thought the weather would keep people away a little bit,” said West Columbia resident Barry Raines, who brought his 3-year-old Mac to practice, “but it looks like people are excited about the year.”
On a day when the temperature hit 103 degrees, breaking a 58-year-old record, fans lined one sideline stacked eight-deep in spots to see a team that is, for the first time in its history, picked to win the SEC East.
University president Harris Pastides, who gave the team a short pep talk midway through the practice, was delighted by the turnout, he said.
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“I have an SEC East championship ring,” Pastides said, referring to the Gamecocks’ 2010 division crown. “I’d love another one, but more than for me, I’d love to do good things for these fans. It’s for them that I want the football team to do well.”
Head coach Steve Spurrier had planned to make Wednesday the only open practice of the team’s fall camp, but, after the workout, he threw open the doors.
“We thought about it and said, ‘Well, why not have the fans here?’ ” Spurrier said. “I noticed all those pro teams they let their fans come, and it seems like us college boys we think we’re not supposed to let them come. We’re going to keep it open for at least a week or two, might as well. We don’t have any secrets to hide out here.”
What the Gamecocks do have, Spurrier said, is their fastest team in his tenure.
“We’ve got a fast team. Hopefully, we’ll have a team that can really play well, too,” he said. “It was noticeable the new speed guys out here – Bruce Ellington, Damiere Byrd, Shamier Jeffery, Shon Carson, gosh, some of those little defensive backs, too. Their names don’t come to me right now.”
The fastest of the newcomers might have been defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who finally took the field in a South Carolina uniform following the most publicized recruiting battle in the school’s history. Last year’s No. 1 recruit in the nation, Clowney stood out not just for his 6-foot-6 figure, clad in the familiar No. 7, Spurrier said.
“He plays too fast out here,” Spurrier said. “We have to teach him practice speed. He was going right around (freshman offensive tackle) Will Sport. We try to let the quarterbacks throw the ball in these drills with no pads on, but we can’t slow Jadeveon down.”
Along with the newcomers, fans got to see a couple of veterans who were in limbo last week as starting quarterback Stephen Garcia and his position coach G.A. Mangus returned from suspensions to resume their duties.
Pastides has addressed the team during its first practice each of the last three years.
“I was of course looking at the catching and the running,” he said, “but I was looking into their eyes a little bit and trying to see a little bit of passion and character, and I think I like what I saw.”
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