After three straight 11-2 seasons, Steve Spurrier and his staff have a script pretty well in place, and the same is true when the players are turned over to director of strength and conditioning Joe Connolly in January.
“The system is in place,” said Connolly, who is beginning his third year as the Gamecocks head strength and conditioning coach. “It’s just a matter of coming in, punching the clock and doing what you are supposed to do and taking it one day at a time and getting better.”
This year’s group, which begins spring practice Tuesday, has done just that since wrapping up its season with a 34-24 win over Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl on Jan. 1.
“This is a great team to train right now,” Connolly said. “They go to work. They come in with great intensity. They consistently come in with that intensity every day. They go home and they come in the next day, and they do the same thing. It’s part of the process.”
Senior offensive lineman Corey Robinson’s team won the Gamecocks’ winter team competition, which includes measurements on everything from strength and conditioning numbers to academics to character development. Jerell Adams, Shon Carson, Cedrick Cooper, Kyle Fleetwood, Mason Harris, Cedrick Malone, Devin Potter and Brandon Sturdivant made up Robinson’s team.
Robinson “is a three-time team comp champion, so he’s got a future as a GM if things don’t go well in football,” Connolly said. “He knows how to manage a team.”
Quarterback Dylan Thompson and offensive lineman A.J. Cann were named the Iron Gamecocks for the winter.
“That’s basically the offseason MVP,” Connolly said. “They did everything they could have possibly done and then some.”
Offensive lineman Mike Matulis, who has been limited the last two seasons due to surgery on both shoulders won the team’s Big BAMF Award, which goes to the team’s top weight room performer among the heavier players.
“He’s doing phenomenal,” Connolly said. “He’s quicker than he’s ever been. He’s stronger than he’s ever been. He’s faster than he’s ever been. He’s got a better mental mindset than he has ever had. I’m really excited to see what (offensive line coach Shawn) Elliott thinks of him.”
Running back Shon Carson won the Little BAMF Award.
Other winter highlights include:
-- Cooper, who is making the transition from linebacker to defensive end, weighs “in the 230s,” Connolly said. Cooper could be up to 245 pounds by the fall, Connolly said.
“He’s a freak athletically so that is never a problem, and he works hard,” Connolly said. “He’ll get there, but it’ll take a while because he does not gain fat. It just doesn’t happen. He’s genetically gifted that way.”
-- Wide receiver Pharoh Cooper impressed Connolly with his weight room work ethic.
“He reminds me of Stephon Gilmore. He doesn’t like to mess around,” Connolly said. “The only difference between him and Gilmore is he’ll give you a smile every now and then where Gilmore was just all business. Pharoh is all business too, but he’ll give you a smile every now and again.”
-- Offensive lineman Alan Knott was one of the team’s most improved players.
“He got a lot stronger this offseason,” Connolly said. “He’s got great movement skills, good feet. He’s got a good burst. He’s got some nasty, which will all like for the o-linemen. I’m excited to hand him over to coach Elliott.”
-- Redshirt freshman defensive end Devin Washington, who missed all of 2013 due to a severe concussion, is “symptom free,” Connolly said.