More than a few fans who made their way into South Carolina’s football practice field Tuesday afternoon for the team’s first public practice were veterans of theses events.
Knox Britt was not one of them.
It was the first time for the 8-month-old. But, he was set up with a stroller, mother Jessica Britt on hand and grandmother Faye Sullivan taking care of him along the fence around the field. The family had grandparents in from Texas, drove down from Charlotte to tour Columbia and figured a trip to see the football team ideally capped the day.
“My husband is a Gamecock,” Jessica Britt said. “He graduated from here. And we have three sons, so football is a natural family event.”
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Her 4-year-old and 2-year-old ran around in the crowd that numbered between 400 and 500 and went at least three deep from the cord dividing the gallery and field.
The fans came with a curiosity for what the new era of Gamecocks football will look like, with Will Muschamp taking over for longtime coach Steve Spurrier.
Tuesday’s practice offered that, plus the bonus of seeing true freshman quarterback Brandon McIlwain getting most of the work with the starters after a collarbone injury to incumbent Perry Orth.
“Several of my friends, when we talked about coming out here, they said, ‘OK, well yeah, now we’re going to probably see him running the show for a while. Let’s see if he can shake and bake and scramble around a little bit,’ ” said Greg Joye, a 1971 graduate whose fandom is going on five decades.
Several fans admitted there was some skepticism when Muschamp’s hire was announced, but as Joye put it, many have bought in.
The staff was not quite as bombastic as it had been in previous practices, but the fans got to see the start of a new era. Some even came out to satisfy more specific curiosity, such as Trey Muckenfuss, who wanted to see how former Atlanta Falcon Mike Peterson coached so soon after concluding an NFL career.
Then again, some were out for far less narrow reasons.
“Just got out of class, didn’t really have much of anything to do,” exercise science major Addison Bennett said. “Thought I’d come out here and check the squad out, see what Muschamp’s got going on.”
Bennett was part of a large cadre of students escaping the bonds of normal working hours and enjoying a warm spring afternoon. They sat alongside families that included Sammy and Sharon Clark, out with their young grandson Kaleb Goldsmith.
When asked what brought them out, Sammy Clark answered, “We’re Gamecock fans,” and they’d come for spring games, and even tailgated. The grandparents got to share the day with their grandson, and although he was shy around a stranger, he seemed to be enjoying it.
“He’s been smiling from ear to ear,” Sharon Clark said.