USC enjoys quiet offseason without off-the-field issues

dcloninger@thestate.comJuly 25, 2013 

Steve Spurrier spent most of his annual preseason media golf gathering Thursday talking about expectations for the 2013 season. He spoke about how unstressful the job was because of his savvy staff and what South Carolina has been able to accomplish the past three seasons.

It also helps when his players are staying out of trouble.

Like every team around the country, the Gamecocks have had their share of players over the years who found themselves in the headlines for the wrong reasons. When Spurrier took the job in November 2004, he had to deal with several players who were spending more time at the booking desk than the practice field.

USC is three days from a one-year arrest-free stretch. Backup quarterback Tanner McEvoy was arrested for speeding and consuming alcohol under the age of 21 on July 29, 2012, and transferred out of the program soon after. Since then, the Gamecocks have kept to the straight and narrow.

“We haven’t had any real problems here in a long time,” Spurrier said. “When I first got here, obviously, we had a few. Those guys were gone, they were dismissed quickly. Once our players learn that they’re accountable, and there are going to be consequences for whatever they do, then we get pretty good results.”

There have been a handful of incidents since the 2010 season wrapped, but nothing like Spurrier had to deal with during his first three years on the job. The 2005, 2006 and 2007 seasons filled enough disciplinary reports to recycle a forest.

It doesn’t seem to be coincidental that the team’s record improved once the off-the-field incidents lessened. The Gamecocks have gone 31-9 since 2010 and have given Spurrier more reasons to talk about the improvement on the field and the improvement in attitude.

“I think it’s passed down from senior class to the rest of them and so forth,” he said. “We’ve got a good group of guys who know how to act, know how to compete, and know how to win, then it’s passed down to the rest of the guys.”

Other SEC programs have had their ups and downs when it comes to off-the-field incidents — one that stands out recently had a Florida linebacker arrested for barking at a police dog, although the charges later were dropped.

USC defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward, while pausing to “knock wood” on a nearby chair, agreed with his boss.

“I just think that’s where the program is, now,” Ward said Thursday. “We didn’t have one single player who had to go to summer school to be eligible. Our guys are going to class, they’re getting their grades, they’re all eligible. They went to summer school to get ahead. They come to work, from 7 to 9, or from 11 to 1, and then they go to class and then after class, they do what they do. Most of them probably go home on the weekend. It’s been a quiet summer, but I think that’s where this program is.”

Spurrier is starting his ninth season at USC, which ties Paul Dietzel for second place in longevity. He has seen players such as Marcus Lattimore lead on the field and set an example for the younger players to follow. He said others took leadership roles as soon as Lattimore declared for the NFL.

“We’re proud of our guys,” Spurrier said. “I know that fans, president (Harris) Pastides, athletic director (Ray) Tanner, they’re proud of what our guys have done off the field. Not only going 11-2 two years in a row, these guys are all graduating, and grade-point average is the highest ever.

“We’ve got a good program going, but can we keep it up? We don’t know. We’ve got to find out as we go through this year.”

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