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March 1, 2011

Fitzgerald Talks Butler, Winter Workouts

Craig Fitzgerald may know new South Carolina special teams coach John Butler as well as anybody.

They both grew up in Philadelphia, PA and later worked together at Harvard, where Fitzgerald was the strength and conditioning coach and Butler was on the coaching staff (linebackers and special teams) for the Crimson's football team.

Butler left Harvard following the 2006 season to join Tim Brewster's new staff at Minnesota. But Brewster's unsuccessful tenure in the Twin Cities ended midway through the 2010 season when he was dismissed and Butler was hired by the NFL's Houston Texans in early February.

But his stay in the professional ranks was a brief one thanks in large part to Fitzgerald, who recommended Butler to head coach Steve Spurrier. Butler flew to Columbia for an interview and was officially hired last week.

"John Butler is very fortunate to be here because he's joining a great staff and we're real fortunate to have John Butler," Fitzgerald said Monday night on the 'Inside the Roost' program on 107.5 FM. "He's a real intense coach. He's a very smart special teams and defensive coach."

Fitzgerald and Butler played football together in high school. Fitzgerald, born Sept. 15, 1972, is about eight months older than Butler, who was born in March of 1973.

Butler graduated from Catholic University in Washington, DC in 1995. Fitzgerald, who graduated from Maryland in 1997, began his professional career at the same school as its first Director of Strength and Conditioning from 1997-99.

"I'm excited about John joining our staff," Fitzgerald said. "I'm proud to put my name on the line for him. He is outstanding."

WINTER WORKOUTS: Winter workouts, ongoing since mid-January, will conclude at the end of this week with team testing at the Crews Facility weight room. Next week is spring break and the first workout of spring practice is scheduled for Tuesday, March 15.

"We're in the middle of max week, so the guys are getting really excited for that," Fitzgerald said. "We're having a blast. The players are really fighting to get their names on the board. They're competitors and they want to achieve. It's hard to get on there.

Rising sophomore running back Marcus Lattimore continues to be one of USC's best leaders in the weight room, Fitzgerald said, adding "you can hear him train. He's a right-from the gut, everything he's got guy. The players really respond to that."

"When your best player is your hardest worker, you're in good shape," Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald said junior safety D.J. Swearinger "has really done an awesome job" in workouts. He was one of several players on the cusp last year of "doing something special," Fitzgerald added.

Two other players have caught Fitzgerald's eye in the final weeks of winter conditioning: WR Ace Sanders and OL A.J. Cann.

JUCO transfer Kaleb Broome enrolled in January and has "improved by leaps and bounds," Fitzgerald said. Broome is expected to challenge for the starting job at right tackle along with Cody Gibson and Brandon Shell (when he arrive son campus).

"He understood he really needed to get here," Fitzgerald said. "He's ready for spring ball. He's been doing great. All of the four newcomers have done very well. They've matched up with their groups. T.J. Johnson has taken Broome under his wing. Stephon Gilmore and D.J. Swearinger have taken Brison Williams under their wing. Martay Mattox is a special athlete. He can play anywhere, but he'll start at DB in the spring."

DL Kelcy Quarles, a 2010 signee who spent a semester at prep school, is physically ready to play, Fitzgerald said. Finally, Fitzgerald praised long snapper Walker Inabinet for his work ethic in the weight room.

"The guys really respect him," Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald has supervised the quarterbacks, running backs and tight ends during winter workouts.

Who is the strongest Gamecock? Just like last year, it's defensive tackle Travian Robertson, who routinely bench presses 450 pounds, according to Fitzgerald.

"Travian has been the strongest guy for the past two years," Fitzgerald said. "He plays hard and he's played through a lot of injuries. But he's hitting his full strength right now. He benches 450 (pounds) every day of the week. That's pretty good. If you can get a lineman to bench 400, you're doing a good job with him."

During winder workouts, the bench press is the third most important lift behind the squat and power clean, Fitzgerald said.

"It's all about balance and starting from the ground up," Fitzgerald said. "But upper body strength is important for linemen."

NOTES:

-- Fitzgerald helped prepare former USC defensive end Cliff Matthews for the NFL Combine, which started last week in Indianapolis.

-- Fitzgerald and his wife Mary are expecting the birth of their third child "any day now." They have two boys, Mac and Joe.

-- AD Eric Hyman said USC conducted an exhaustive national search for the new volleyball coach before hiring Scott Swanson, the Associate Head Coach at Minnesota. "We talked to a lot of people around the country," Hyman said. "We had to take our time, however long it took, to hire the right person. You don't want to hire somebody who is not a good fit. Swanson is expected to arrive in Columbia on Wednesday. The Golden Gophers went 125-46 during Swanson's five years in Minneapolis. He helped guide Minnesota to the 2009 NCAA Volleyball Final Four as well two other regional finals. They made the NCAA Tournament in all five of Swanson's seasons. Swanson was the head coach at UTEP for four seasons(2002-2005) before moving on to Minnesota.

-- Hyman said Sunday's OT loss by the USC women's basketball team to Vanderbilt was a "tough pill to swallow" since the Gamecocks had a double-digit lead in the second half. "We're getting closer and chipping away at it," Hyman said. "With the players coming back and the recruits coming in, Dawn will continue to build a program here." USC, the NO. 5 seed, faces No. 12 Ole Miss Thursday at 7:30 p.m. ET at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. If USC wins, they will square off with No. 4 Georgia Friday at 6:30 p.m. ET.

-- Hyman said the struggling men's basketball team is experiencing "growing pains" as they approach the end of the 2010-2011 regular season. USC was beaten, 64-48, Saturday at Georgia as the Gamecocks shot a lowly 28.3 percent from the floor. But shooting percentages below 35 percent have been too common this season. "I know nobody wants to hear it but, honestly, when you play with freshman you're going to have your ups and downs," Hyman said. "Right now, we're having a few downs. Hopefully, we'll be able to turn it up again. Maybe we're getting all the downs out of our system this year."

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