COLUMBIA - Lou Holtz's pledge entering 2000 was to forget 1999.
It was an understandable notion, given the forgettable nature of the 0-11 disaster he endured in his first season as South Carolina's football coach.
The 64-year-old is crooning the same tune as his team begins preparations for 2001. The difference? Holtz is asking his players and coaches to forget perhaps the most memorable season in school history.
"This is not a continuation of last year," said Holtz, whose team begins spring drills today. "It's got to start out all over. I've been through this so many times - more than I care to remember. ... You say, `That's behind us, that's over. This is a brand new year. Let's build it and grow and mature and develop.' "
The Gamecocks have most of the pieces back from a team that went 8-4 and thumped Ohio State in the Outback Bowl. They lost just six starters and 42 lettermen return to a squad that was one victory short of an appearance in the Southeastern Conference championship game.
All of Holtz's coaching staff is back, so there should be few major changes entering the season, which begins Sept. 1 when the Gamecocks play host to Boise State.
But Holtz said he plans to add a few philosophical tweaks between today and March 31, when spring drills conclude with the annual Spring Game at Williams-Brice Stadium.
The most notable change will be the defense's shift to a four-man line. The Gamecocks have used three down linemen in operating from the 3-3-5 formation for the better part of the past two seasons, but Holtz said the new look will allow for a stronger rush up front.
"The four-man line is going to be an integral part of our defense," said Holtz, who lost Cleveland Pinkney and Cecil Caldwell from the middle of the line. "We have to do that. We have some people coming in that can certainly come in and help us."
Holtz also is determined to kick start an offense that moved the ball effectively but sputtered in the shadow of opponents' goal posts. He expects more consistency with four-receiver sets and said he'll use more option in goal-line situations.
By his estimations, Holtz has never lost so few players in his 30-year coaching career. But he cautioned that good numbers don't automatically add up to a good season.
"This can be good, and this can be bad," he said. "I can't sit here and say we're going to be an outstanding football team, but I can tell you we have a chance to be a very good, solid football team. But a lot of it is going to be dependent upon building it from the ground up."
Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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