Coaches aren't allowed to watch their players during the summer.
"At first he took it rough, but he realizes that coach (Steve) Spurrier only wants the best for him," South Carolina fullback Patrick DiMarco said during SEC Media Days. "Coach Spurrier knows what it takes to be a great quarterback and that's what he's trying to do for Stephen."
DiMarco's roommate, quarterback Stephen Garcia, has been a hot topic since spring practice ended. Although the Gamecocks' entrenched starter, Garcia's commitment to getting better has been publicly questioned by his coach.
Spurrier made headlines by criticizing Garcia throughout the spring and summer, saying it was time his quarterback truly harnessed his responsibility and tried to be the best he can be. There was always something to point to -- Spurrier credited Garcia for stepping onto the Williams-Brice Stadium turf for some non-practice throwing, until he realized the QB was wearing flip-flops.
During Media Days, Spurrier said what he's been saying since the spring game -- Garcia is the Gamecocks' starter, unless.
"He'll be our starter unless he's beaten out by the next quarterback," Spurrier said, referring to true freshman backup Connor Shaw.
But since Spurrier isn't allowed to watch Garcia during the summer, he has to rely on what he hears. If DiMarco has the coach's ear -- and he should, considering he's a returning team captain -- then the coach has nothing to worry about.
"He's matured a lot," DiMarco said. "I'm his roommate, and I've seen a huge change since he's come to campus. He's busting his butt, putting in the extra effort, working on his own with the receivers this summer, things that haven't been done before."
Garcia had a fine season in 2009, his first as the full starter. The numbers -- 2,862 yards, 17 touchdowns, 10 interceptions -- were very good considering he revolved in and out of the position in 2008, and some of the plays he made to keep drives going even softened Spurrier's hardened eye.
Yet, Spurrier feels Garcia can be better. That's where the critiques came from and the comparisons to former Spurrier quarterbacks. Some, such as Shane Matthews and Danny Wuerffel, rose from obscurity to greatness despite Spurrier constantly hovering over their shoulders. Others, such as Blake Mitchell and Chris Smelley, hit a certain point and never got better.
It's no coincidence that the former two were at Florida and won championships while the latter two were at USC and won games, not titles. It seems to be why Spurrier has only slightly backed off of Garcia as the summer has gone along -- he knows Garcia has more talent than Mitchell or Smelley, and that the 2010 USC team has the best chance it has ever had to make some noise in the SEC.
It has to begin with a quarterback.
"Well, I hope Stephen has improved on a lot of things and I hope he's had a good summer working on his fundamentals and so forth, learning the offense a little bit better," Spurrier said. "Obviously he has to do that on his own."
DiMarco says that has happened.
"He dragged me up to the stadium a couple of times to run some extra routes," DiMarco said. "If he couldn't get some receivers to go, he'd say, 'Patrick, can you run some Z and X?' I said, 'I'll give it my best shot.'"
The two will remain roomies throughout the summer, until Garcia moves into his own place for the fall semester. He'll still be close by, DiMarco says, for extra work.
But the extra work is being done. DiMarco says that Garcia didn't like the verbal barbs, but understood two things.
One, Garcia can play better. Two, the only way to stop the taunts is to show his coach that he can be a leader and a great quarterback.
"He's doing stuff he needs to do, to get to the point where it's his team," DiMarco said. "He feels, 'Maybe I can follow in his footsteps and do the same thing.'"
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