Touchdown in Florida: Gamecocks arrive for bowl preparations

jkendall@thestate.comDecember 26, 2013 

— As Steve Spurrier watched dozens after dozens after more dozens of players, coaches, administrators and family members spill out of buses here at the site of the Capital One Bowl, he smiled.

“Takes a lot of people to get 11 guys on the field,” he said.

South Carolina arrived Thursday afternoon at the Renaissance Orlando at SeaWorld, its home for the next six days as it prepares to play No. 19 Wisconsin on Jan. 1, and the Gamecocks arrived in droves.

“Good to be back in Orlando,” said Spurrier, who played college football at Florida and has a beach house in the state. “We’re in Florida, you can tell. Everybody’s got their shorts, sunglasses on. Feels like it’s about 80. … Back in the Sunshine State.”

South Carolina is making its third trip in three years to the home of Disney World. The No. 8 Gamecocks played in the Capital One Bowl two years ago and played UCF on its home field here earlier this season. Each time, the team stayed in the same hotel.

“Hoping for the same result, but we have to play well if we are expecting to beat Wisconsin,” Spurrier said.

All the Gamecocks save one (backup wide receiver Kwinton Smith) made it to the bowl destination, Spurrier said, and they’re not the only ones that came. South Carolina also brought along the families of their coaching staff along with scores of children and babysitters as well as plenty of athletic department personnel. Every member of the athletic staff was invited to the bowl game, athletic director Ray Tanner said, with the school offering to pay for their ticket to the game and help offset some travel costs.

“It’s a celebration, and it’s shared by all,” Tanner said. “It just does so much when you have a great season. I feel very strongly that the kind of year we have had for the third year now, it’s a real celebration, a tribute to our players and coaches and excitement for our fans.”

The Gamecocks held a brief conditioning session Thursday evening in the parking lot of their hotel and will practice today at Celebration High School. The Badgers arrived in Orlando on Wednesday and held their first on-site practice Thursday morning.

Damiere Byrd, South Carolina’s second-leading wide receiver, won’t be available for the game after suffering a meniscus injury in his knee last week that required surgery. Byrd could be available for some drills in spring practice and “should be pretty close to full go in three months,” Spurrier said.

“We will miss Damiere,” Spurrier said. “He’s our deep threat, long ball guy. Hopefully, one of the other players will step forward, maybe catch a long one before the day is over.”

Smith won’t be that player. The redshirt freshman with five catches this season “didn’t pass enough hours” to be academically eligible for the bowl game, Spurrier said.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen with him. May be back, may not be back,” Spurrier said. “It’s a pretty simple football program. It’s not hard. If one guy out of 100 doesn’t make it, maybe you see he wasn’t giving the effort.”

The Gamecocks have distributed 10,000 of their allotment of 12,500 tickets to the game and have sold another 1,000 on the secondary market, Tanner said.

“We may climb as high as 15 (thousand tickets sold), who knows?” Tanner said.

The Gamecocks can notch their third straight 11-2 season with a victory.

“We have an opportunity to win our 33rd game in three years,” Tanner marveled. “There have got to be a handful of teams in the country that have been able to do that.”

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