Beecher has many tongues wagging

COLUMBIA --- Tommy Beecher barely gets through a meal at a restaurant before he's interrupted by a South Carolina fan eager to talk Gamecock football.

 

"Sometimes when I'm eating dinner," South Carolina's starting quarterback says with a smile, "I don't want to talk about football."

These days, almost everyone wants to talk about Beecher, who's gone from a little considered third-stringer to front-and-center of South Carolina's offense.

Even coach Steve Spurrier sounds ready to change his quarterback shuffling ways, hoping Beecher can stabilize a position that has been inconsistent the past three seasons.

"It would take an awful lot of bad plays, which I don't anticipate, to get him out of there," Spurrier said. "He's the guy."

It hasn't always been that way.

Beecher was part of Spurrier's first recruiting class in February 2005. After a redshirt season, Beecher found himself mostly out of the picture in 2006. He watched as true freshman Chris Smelley played in South Carolina's opener and heard the reports that maybe the most complete quarterback prospect in Gamecock history, Stephen Garcia, was on the way for 2007.

Beecher thought about leaving. Instead, he decided patience was his best strategy.

"I guess it just wasn't my time," Beecher said. "But when the opportunity approaches, you have to be ready to step up and play."

That opportunity finally came this past spring. Blake Mitchell's time was complete, while Garcia lost a second consecutive spring camp to suspension.

Suddenly, Beecher was alongside Smelley splitting the work with the first team.

Neither was particularly impressive in April's scrimmage that concluded spring practice. Beecher threw three interceptions to Smelley's five. A few days later, though, Spurrier tabbed Beecher No. 1.

Beecher was as surprised as everyone else.

"I didn't know what to expect," he said. "I didn't know if (Spurrier) was going to wait to make a decision during the fall or in his mind, he had it made up."

No matter how it happened, Beecher's poise and confidence have risen. He took charge of voluntary summer drills and worked to bolster chemistry with receivers and running backs.

"He's very smart and he has all the mechanics to be a great quarterback," said Kenny McKinley, South Carolina's all-Southeastern Conference receiver. "He's been there to see everything, so I know he'll come here and have a great season."

How long Beecher's season lasts is still up for debate. Spurrier has a well-earned reputation for pulling passers.

Spurrier relied largely on Mitchell in his South Carolina debut season in 2005, with the sophomore starting 11 of 12 games. But Mitchell shared the starting job with Syvelle Newton in 2006, and with Smelley last season.

South Carolina ended 2007 with five consecutive losses, perhaps leading Spurrier to choose a different path. Beecher is the beneficiary.

"I told him he's going to have every opportunity to be the quarterback the entire year, you know, barring injury or whatever," Spurrier said.

Beecher, who's thrown just 25 passes in college, doesn't have to look far for inspiration.

A year ago, Clemson faced uncertain prospects with new junior starter Cullen Harper at quarterback.

"I think Cullen's in the Heisman talk," Beecher said. "I think the players will get more and more confident in my ability. One day, I'll prove that coach Spurrier made a good decision."

That would surely give South Carolina fans plenty to talk about.

TOMMY BEECHER

POSITION: Quarterback

HEIGHT, WEIGHT: 6-foot-2, 220 pounds

CLASS: Junior

HOMETOWN: Concord, N.C.

MAJOR: Mathematics


SPURRIER MIFFED

COLUMBIA --- Steve Spurrier ended South Carolina's Monday practice early, soon after linebacker Eric Norwood's hard hit on receiver Moe Brown during a passing drill.

Spurrier was angry that some defensive players were laughing and smiling when Brown got hit. Spurrier said his players have to learn to practice as a team and take care of each other.

The Gamecocks coach said the Monday night session got out of hand. He said if players don't want to practice the way a team should, the team will spend its workouts running.

Spurrier said the worst part of the incident was the giggling after Brown got hit.

-- Associated Press

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