COLUMBIA, S.C. - Who says the Ol' Ball Coach hates recruiting?
With a smile on his face and a Gamecock pin on his sport coat, new coach Steve Spurrier talked excitedly about his first recruiting class for South Carolina.
"Normally, I don't brag too much about recruiting classes," Spurrier said Wednesday. "But I think it is an excellent group of athletes that we've been able to sign."
Spurrier had been recruiting non-stop since taking over for the retired Lou Holtz in November, Gamecock recruiting coordinator Rick Stockstill said.
"When he wasn't in their homes, he was on the phone," said Stockstill, a holdover from Holtz's staff.
And the results proved it.
In the past three days, South Carolina landed the Palmetto State's top rushing prospect in Mike Davis, a wide receiver in O.J. Murdock who looked like he was heading to Florida and defensive end Jonathan Hannah, who had committed to Virginia Tech three weeks ago but changed his mind at the last minute.
"Hannah was probably the big surprise," Spurrier said.
But wasn't one of Spurrier's major drawbacks - and one of the most whispered rumors in the Southeastern Conference - his distaste for the grind of convincing teenagers to come play for him?
"You can't believe everything you hear," Spurrier said.
Spurrier's class of 28 signees was ranked among the top 25 on two Internet recruiting sites, Scout.com (19th) and Rivals.com (22nd) - a stunning accomplishment for someone who had less than three months to get it done.
Spurrier brushed aside most of the credit, instead bowing to Stockstill's doggedness, South Carolina's newer facilities - Spurrier was interviewed in Williams-Brice Stadium's new South End Zone addition that includes team meeting rooms and an expanded weight room - and the school's growing reputation as a football school during Holtz's six years.
"I didn't do things that much different than I ever did," he said.
Stockstill said Spurrier's name opened doors that had been previously closed to the Gamecocks. "It was easy to go in and sell him as a head coach," Stockstill said.
Davis, the runner from Columbia High, was convinced in the last week or so that Spurrier could turn the Gamecocks into big winners. South Carolina "is a great team," Davis said. "All they need is a little help, and I think they got that from Spurrier."
One of the biggest questions facing Spurrier is at quarterback, where he'll have to choose between sometimes starter Syvelle Newton, sophomore Blake Mitchell and freshman Antonio Heffner. Spurrier signed two passers in this class, Tommy Beecher of Concord, N.C., and Cade Thompson of Maryville, Tenn.
Both Beecher and Thompson led their schools to state titles this past season, although the coach said it's unlikely either will beat out the returnees.
"We'll see how it all plays out back there, but I don't think I've ever signed two kids who won a state championship," Spurrier said.
Eight of Spurrier's signees came from South Carolina, eight from Florida, four from Georgia, three from North Carolina and two from New Jersey. Spurrier said that would probably be the breakdown of recruits for as long as he's heading the program.
Spurrier says he wasn't able to turn a lot of the instate players who had already to committed to schools before he arrived. But he thought this year's class gave him a strong foundation to build on in years to come.
Clemson coach Tommy Bowden says he'll face a strong challenge recruiting against Spurrier just as they had in the past against Holtz.
"We recruited a bunch of those players, and I've come in second on a lot to them," said Bowden, who signed 25 players. "The objective is to win the ACC, but again, being a state school, you better beat your state rival."
Spurrier's first class showed Bowden and the rest of the SEC that might become increasingly harder to do.
"We can offer something that the big schools can't," Spurrier said. "The chance to do it for the first time, to win a division, to win a conference. We have an opportunity to do that for the first time at South Carolina."
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