COLUMBIA, S.C. - In six months on the job, Steve Spurrier has learned a lot of about South Carolina's football team - and its fans.
"I know our fans are amongst the best in college football. They're starving to win and we're going to do our best to put a championship team together as soon as possible," Spurrier said Wednesday evening. "I don't know if it's going to be this year or next year. We've certainly got some building to do."
And Spurrier's done it - mostly - with a smile on his face and an enthusiastic attitude.
Even when he's had to say goodbye to quality players like defensive end Moe Thompson and receiver David Smith (both who left school after their criminal arrests), or fullback Antonio Lamar (leaving the team because of poor grades), Spurrier's kept a hopeful tone that fans have clung to.
Spurrier has calmly dealt with 11 arrests of past and current Gamecocks since he took over, pushing the notion that if someone chooses not to follow the rules, they must suffer the consequences that come with those decisions.
He's been a hit among supporters who have raised a record $13 million in Gamecock Club donations and filled banquet halls throughout the Palmetto State to hear their latest football savior.
"So far nobody's booed," Spurrier says. "So life must be pretty good for the Gamecocks."
Especially with Spurrier leading the way. He's already told them this spring about his newly named "[filtered word]-n-Fire" offense and how he plans to become the winningest coach in school history, and stood by it when he learned that leader Rex Enright had two stints as Gamecocks coach with 64 victories instead of 47.
Spurrier acknowledges that he has brought hope of future success. He says Florida fans weren't nearly as giddy after Spurrier's Gators won the national title in 1996 as they were before his first season. "In life we all got to have hope something better's happening that what's been happening," he said. "And right now, if you're the Gamecocks, we've got hope. And that's encouraging, exciting for us as coaches."
Spurrier's felt the excitement personally.
He wondered if he could sign 20 players in that first class after taking over for retired Lou Holtz last November. But Spurrier's pull and panache gained him 28 recruits that some analysts ranked among the top 25.
"The response has been very good," he said. "As our coaches have been out this month of May, we've got the interest of a lot of players now. We've got to continue recruiting, continue, continue, continue recruiting... every day... every year, and we'll be fine."
His opener against Central Florida was moved from Saturday to Thursday, Sept. 1, and picked up by ESPN. As part of the festivities, the sports network plans to originate its signature "SportsCenter" from Columbia that night.
Spurrier says things may be rough at first. "I got a feeling we may play a lot of freshman this year," he said. "We're not a junior-senior team which some day you hope to be."
He says the team had a good academic semester and so far, Lamar, a redshirt fullback, was the only one stung by grade problems.
Now, it's up to his players. Summer workouts start May 31 and Spurrier's counting on upperclassmen like offensive lineman Na'Shan Goddard and Jabari Levey, and wide receiver Noah Whiteside to gather teammates on down time, watch film and improve.
"You can learn a lot in the summer," he said.
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