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Spurrier: SEC title dreams are still alive

Before he broke down the quarterback competition or the outlook for the fall, South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier took a moment Monday to remind fans — as well as new men’s basketball coach Darrin Horn — about the school mascot.

Speaking at the Richland/Lexington Gamecock Club meeting, Spurrier compared his team to the bird perched on the USC helmets.

“We’re like our mascot. The gamecock is an animal — Darrin, I don’t know if you know this or not — that fights until it’s dead,” Spurrier said. “The Gamecocks, we dang sure aren’t dead yet. We have a lot of fight in us going to next year.”

At the penultimate Gamecock Club meeting of the spring — the tour wraps tonight in Atlanta — Spurrier expressed optimism while dialing down expectations a notch.

A year ago, Spurrier’s message was the Gamecocks were ready to compete for the SEC title. After a season-ending, five-game losing streak dashed those dreams in 2007, the timetable has been adjusted.

“Our goal is to win the SEC. It hasn’t changed,” Spurrier said. “We’re looking forward the next three or four years of competing and hopefully winning that game in Atlanta real soon.”

Spurrier told the Colonial Center crowd that redshirt junior Tommy Beecher will start summer drills as the No. 1 quarterback, saying the right-hander has “the talents and smarts” to be successful.

Beecher, who played sparingly the past two seasons, overtook Chris Smelley following Smelley’s five-interception showing in the spring game.

“Maybe CS can come around and do some good things,” Spurrier said of the Alabama native who was 4-2 last season as a starter. “But right now, Beecher’s our guy.”

Spurrier also praised the additions to his coaching staff. At a recent golf outing, Spurrier said Rutgers coach Greg Schiano told him he planned to hire Ray Rychleski before Spurrier snagged the former Maryland assistant to coach the Gamecocks’ special teams.

“I’m not sure we’ve always had a bunch of coaches that a lot of other schools would love to have,” Spurrier said. “But we’ve got ’em here now.”

Spurrier said freshman T.J. Johnson of Aynor would have a shot to start at center, while mentioning Chester receiver C.C. Whitlock, Strom Thurmond quarterback Aramis Hillary and Beaufort defensive end Devin Taylor as other freshmen to watch.

Discussing the facility improvements that have been completed or are in the works, Spurrier said the Gamecocks have “no excuses” for not fielding a winner.

Spurrier shared a story from his first game at USC in 2005 — a Thursday night game against a Central Florida team that was winless the previous season. Spurrier said he was shocked to pull up to Williams-Brice Stadium three hours before kickoff and find fans looking for tickets.

Then, noticing Horn seated a few feet away on the dais, Spurrier added, “They love basketball, too, Coach.”

Extra points. Spurrier said it appears his team made it through finals in good shape academically, but will not know definitively until next week. ... Spurrier expects senior tackle Gurminder Thind, a fourth-round pick in the CFL draft, to apply for a medical hardship due to a back condition. ... Spurrier said linebacker Vandaral Shackleford’s future is uncertain, adding that players with “problems and issues” are not assured of having their scholarships renewed. ... Horn said the Gamecocks are going to Europe this summer on an exhibition tour.

Reach Person at (803) 771-8496.