Hundreds of fans lined South Carolina’s practice field Friday night to welcome what is, statistically at least, the most promise-filled Gamecocks season on record.
“I figured it would be a good crowd,” coach Steve Spurrier said after his team’s first practice of the 2013 season. “I think we are rated the highest preseason ever, aren’t we? Yeah, there is a little extra enthusiasm. Hopefully, we can live up to it. We probably couldn’t tonight if we had to play anybody, but we’ve got three weeks or so before we play the Tar Heels.”
South Carolina, ranked a program-best No. 7 earlier this week in the preseason USA Today Coaches Poll, has 28 more workouts scheduled before taking on North Carolina on Aug. 29 at Williams-Brice Stadium.
“It’s been very similar the last three years, very similar feeling,” Spurrier said. “You want your expectations up there. You want your guys to expect to have a good team. We will be very disappointed if we don’t, but we can have a very disappointing team if we don’t really prepare and get ready to play everybody.”
Senior quarterback Connor Shaw returned to the practice field after missing all of spring practice following surgery on his left foot. Shaw is expected to start his 21st game at South Carolina against the Tar Heels and share time with junior Dylan Thompson throughout the season.
“It feels good to be back on my feet and competing with my teammates again,” Shaw said. “I felt great today for the first time in a long time. I kind of forgot what it felt like to play healthy. It felt great today. I felt fresh, probably as fresh as I have been since I came in my freshman year.”
The Gamecocks got under way at 7:15 p.m., but fans lined the entrance to the Proving Grounds an hour early and greeted players as they entered the facilities. The biggest applause, not surprisingly, was for Jadeveon Clowney, the junior defensive end who enters the season as a Heisman Trophy candidate and the presumptive No. 1 pick in the 2014 NFL draft.
“It’s one of the biggest crowds we’ve had out here in a while on the first day,” senior defensive end Chaz Sutton said. “Hopefully, they enjoyed us coming out and putting on a show for them.”
The workout was mostly devoid of drama (“Nothing special happened,” Spurrier said. “We have a ways to go and we need a lot of practice.”) until the end, when sophomore defensive lineman Deon Green and incoming freshman offensive lineman Na’Ty Rodgers fought following a team drill.
“I think it shows (Rodgers) has some, um, man parts about him,” Shaw said. “I was impressed, an 18-year-old kid coming out here and showing what he has, I love it. I love having guys up front like that.”
Practice sights, sounds
Video: Steve Spurrier