Gamecocks Seize the Moment
Posted Nov 18, 2010

When Steve Spurrier's name was announced as the successor to Lou Holtz as the head football coach at the University of South Carolina, fans around the country were a little curious about the ole ball coach's decision to take on the challenge in Columbia. With his Gamecocks' now SEC Eastern Division Champs, Spurrier has shown through his actions why South Carolina was the right place after all.

The road to Atlanta has been paved with dashed hopes and unrealized potential of the past, but also with the fierce loyalty of a fan base who stood by their team even in the worst of times.

The Gamecocks put together just three winning seasons in the 1990s and closed out the decade with an 0-11 mark in Lou Holtz' first year at the helm.

Near capacity crowds still filled Williams-Brice stadium and those in the South Carolina family were rewarded with back-to-back wins over Ohio State in the Outback Bowls of 2000 and 2001.

Coach Holtz certainly did his part to improve the situation he found in Columbia. The foundation that he and his staff laid provided a spring board for Coach Spurrier and his administration on the recruiting trail.

Having a national championship coach like Steve Spurrier will open a lot of doors on the recruiting trail that may have been closed previously.

With the Gamecocks winning and inking Spurrier to a 7-year contract, suddenly South Carolina seemed to be destination worth considering for college bound prospects.

The hay was in the proverbial barn for the most part for the signing class of 2005, but in 2006 the Spurrier regime reeled in some prospects who would begin to take the program to the next level.

Eric Norwood, Captain Munnerlyn, Emmanuel Cook, Jasper and Casper Brinkley as well as Darian Stewart were all part of that class.

While that group did not garner a lot of recognition on signing day, all six of them landed on an NFL roster.

That says a lot about a program's ability to cultivate talent.

Six NFL players in one class? At South Carolina?

After the first couple of seasons in South Carolina, some wondered if Spurrier could get the Gamecocks through the Orange Crush portion of the schedule and into at Atlanta.

Some suggested Spurrier just needed "his" quarterback to run his schemes.

The signing class of 2007 ranked 7th nationally and the highlight of the class may have been the commitment of quarterback Stephen Garcia, a Florida product who grew up a Steve Spurrier fan.

Garcia was able to enroll in January and he had his share of growing up to do on and off the field, but he had the warrior soul and ability to lead the team needed.

At times South Carolina fans showed a great deal of frustration with their free spirited quarterback, but no matter what happens the rest of the way the name Garcia will be a name revered by those living the Garnet life.

Stephen was an important piece of the puzzle, but not the only piece.

Especially after a musical chairs quarterback system with Blake Mitchell and Chris Smelley produced mixed results.

The 2007 season began with great promise, a 6-1 start, but disappointment was a consistent emotion for Gamecock fans as the team closed out the year with a five game losing streak.

The following year the roster picked up some other important pieces when home state standouts C.C. Whitlock and Devin Taylor elected to stay home for their college careers.

Whitlock and Taylor had the options to go just about anywhere, but they saw some things coming together close to home.

They joined five other in state prospects in their signing class, but one of the biggest additions came long after the drama of signing day had come and gone.

Wide receiver Tori Gurley drew comparisons to former Gamecock wide out Sidney Rice. Gurley had the size Coach Spurrier was looking for in an outside receiver.

Tori was a long receiver who could be a handful in the redzone especially on the jump ball, but Gurley's signing came with a bit of good fortune.

Gurley committed to North Carolina not South Carolina originally. After failing to meet NCAA entrance requirements, Tori was set to enroll at Hargrave Military Academy.

As fate would have it, a chance meeting with some North Carolina basketball players led to a conversation about the New Hampton School.

One thing lead to another and Gurley was soon on campus at New Hampton playing both football and basketball.

Some hard work on Tori's part led to him earning his NCAA certification which made him eligible to play Division 1 football, but who had a scholarship in March?

After fielding a few calls and making some inquires on his own, Gurley fielded a few offers including tenders from both Auburn and South Carolina.

Following an official visit to Auburn, Tori committed to Coach Steve Spurrier and soon enrolled in summer school to begin working with future QB Stephen Garcia.

Gurley and Garcia picked up a reinforcement the next year when local boy Alshon Jeffery switched from the west coast USC to the east coast one on signing day.

The Gamecocks haul in 2009 was led by the signing day switch of Alshon, but the nation's #13 class was comprised of several playmakers.

Eleven South Carolina high schoolers elected to join the Gamecocks. Perhaps the leader of the pack was five star Stephon Gilmore.

Gilmore, the nation's #3 safety, drew rave reviews all season at South Pointe High and in the All-American events of the post season.

Stephon's signing added even more talent to a young group of defensive backs like Akeem Auguste and C.C. Whitlock that were rapidly becoming one of the SEC's top secondaries.

It was clear the Gamecocks had something brewing.

Despite some defensive playmakers, a rising star at quarterback and some extremely talented receivers, the Spurrier offense lacked balance.

South Carolina needed a home run threat to help spearhead their rushing attack.

The nation's top running back, Marcus Lattimore, just happened to call South Carolina home, but could the pass happy Gamecocks convince him to stay and become a Gamecock?

While it went all the way down to signing day, Lattimore picked the Gamecocks over dozens of offers.

Marcus officially visited Auburn prior to his announcement and actually clutched an Auburn hat before putting on the South Carolina lid at his signing day press conference.

Lattimore and signing classmate Ace Sanders of Bradenton, Florida both made an immediate impact as the Gamecocks blasted Southern Miss in the season opener 41-13 earlier this year.

The duo has done their part to find a niche on the team and provide a contribution to the team's overall success.

With Lattimore's big play ability and Sanders' elusiveness, the Gamecock offense was now a threat on every level.

The puzzle pieces appeared to be in place for a run at Atlanta.

Opposing defenses now had to defend the entire field.

Now Stephen Garcia would not feel the pressure to do too much.

Now the Gamecocks could beat you on the ground if they had to.

Now the SEC East would have to deal with the South Carolina Steve Spurrier always wanted to see.

It has been anything, but an overnight sensation.

At times South Carolina fans wondered, "If not now, when?"

It started with a fan base that would not be scared away even in the wake of an 0-11 season.

It continued with an administration that was willing to dream big and go get Steve Spurrier.

It began coming together when the South Carolina staff was able to convince their state's best to stay at home to play with some of Florida's finest who grew up watching the Fun-N-Gun at Florida.

It got real serious when big names like Jeffrey, Gilmore and Lattimore said, "I committed to South Carolina."

It got crazy when Stephen Garcia played the game of his life and knocked off defending national champion Alabama.

It was all worth it when the Gamecocks won at Florida for the first time ever.

It ended with South Carolina being crowned champions of the SEC East.

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 -by  Sep 4, 2011
Spurrier More Positive Friday Night
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