When you consider a Division I college football team has 85 scholarships, eight to 10 players doesn't sound significant.
But it is to Steve Spurrier.
Recognizing that he still has some work to do changing the culture of South Carolina football, Spurrier called out eight to 10 players, approximately 10 percent of the roster, at a mid-afternoon press conference Thursday at Williams-Brice Stadium for their failure to fully participate in USC's summer conditioning program that started in early June.
"Our attendance by our team is not as good as it should be," Spurrier said. "We've got about eight or 10 players, or so-called players, that have not attended regularly. That's disappointing but we'll work on that. It's voluntary right now in the summer, as it is at all the schools. But we've checked the opponents and teams we play and they have close to perfect attendance from the players who will play. Right now we don't have that. That's disappointing to us coaches but hopefully our guys will pick it up through the rest of the summer."
Spurrier blamed old-fashioned laziness for the poor work ethic displayed by some of the players. Surprisingly, some of the players were recruited by Spurrier and his staff and were part of the 2005 signing class.
"We've got some lazy guys that don't have the commitment necessary to be winners," Spurrier said. "Simple as that. We've had some problems with most of the same guys. A lot of them have not played yet and are guys we signed. If their commitment level doesn't improve they don't have much of a chance playing or being a student-athlete here at Carolina. It's just a matter of time before they fall by the wayside."
Although he declined to specifically identify them, Spurrier said half of the problem players were older veterans and half were younger ones.
Spurrier and his staff have worked with the younger players to snap them out of their malaise before it's too late.
"We are working with them and trying to get them past the growing stage of being a freshman," Spurrier said. "Now they are sophomores. They need to show whether or not they really want to be a football player here or not. If they don't, they won't make it."
Spurrier had similar difficulties last summer motivating players to participate in the summer conditioning program and eventually revoked the scholarships of four players he felt were not living up to their obligations to themselves or teammates.
But other players are doing much better.
Spurrier praised sophomore running back Mike Davis for his strong work ethic and said the Columbia High School product was currently the top running back ahead of Cory Boyd, who is returning to the team after serving a season-long suspension in 2005 for a nonacademic violation of team rules.
"Right now Mike Davis is our starting tailback," Spurrier said. "He's having an excellent summer. He is stronger, faster and really works hard. He and Fred Bennett have probably been our best leaders as far as going to all the workout sessions. We're excited about what Mike is doing here."
Davis rushed for 666 yards in 2005, including 111 yards against Clemson and a career-best 125 yards in the Independence Bowl loss to Missouri.
Davis is representative of the vast majority of USC players who have shown the willingness to work hard in summer conditioning, Spurrier said.
"We still have plenty of players who are busting their tails getting ready to have a big season," Spurrier said. "We just don't have the 98 percent. Our overall percentage (of players faithfully participating in summer conditioning) is not as high as most teams. But it's our job as coaches to find out the players who really care about their teammates, coaches and university. Those are the guys we have to put out there."
The veterans who refuse to put the requisite effort into the football program during the summer could see themselves replaced in the lineup by freshmen, Spurrier asserted.
"We are looking forward to seeing if maybe (the freshmen's) attitude and commitment level is better then some of the guys we currently have on scholarship," Spurrier said. "If that's the case, then they will have an excellent chance to move right past the guys we have right here who haven't shown a solid commitment to our football
"We may have a lot of freshman and sophomores (playing). We have to play the players who really want to play, who have a commitment level that gives us a chance to win and to beat the top teams."
One player who definitely won't return for the 2006 season is defensive end Shea McKeen from Mays Landing, N.J. McKeen, who was arrested March 24 after an incident at a local bar and faced a three-game suspension, has left USC.
"He sort of faded out," Spurrier said. "It wasn't a shock to a lot of us. He's gone."
The incoming freshman class will attend orientation on June 28 before reporting for summer conditioning the week of July 3. Spurrier expects all 22 players signed in February to report at that time and participate in the conditioning program.
The entire USC roster is scheduled to report to Columbia on Aug. 3, with the first workout of fall camp scheduled for Aug. 5.
The season opener is Aug. 31 at Mississippi State. The 8 p.m. contest will be nationally televised by ESPN.
-- Based on USC's current numbers, Spurrier expects to place about three or four walk-on players on scholarship in late August. Guard Thomas Coleman is expected to be one of those players.
-- While Spurrier confirmed Syvelle Newton's progress from his torn Achilles tendon injury has been "very good," he chided the multi-talented player for sporadic attendance at summer workouts. "He needs to improve his attendance," Spurrier said. Spurrier reiterated Newton will be a "combination player" on offense, including shotgun quarterback and tailback.
-- Spurrier had no new information on Clarence Bailey, saying only that USC was waiting for Clarence Bailey to be cleared by the NCAA Clearinghouse.
-- Spurrier expressed his happiness with starting quarterback Blake Mitchell and the effort he has put forth this summer. "He's organizing the guys and throwing the ball around from what I hear," Spurrier said. "Blake is doing very well."
-- Putting to rest rumors that Jonathan Hannah was still at USC, Spurrier said he has not seen the former USC tight end. "He's not here. I would have seen him around if he was here," Spurrier said. "He got his release."
-- Noah Whiteside must "pass a lot of hours" to retain his eligibility for the upcoming season. "He has some work to do academically but he's still on the team," Spurrier said.
-- Cedric Williams, a former USC offensive lineman, has been hired as a graduate assistant to offensive line coach John Hunt. Mike Rathe is working as a graduate assistant in the video department.
-- Andy Boyd has not fully recovered from November knee surgery but should be ready for the start of the season. Boyd suffered a torn ligament at Georgia and missed the rest of the season. His only reception of 2005 was a 12-yard touchdown against Central Florida in the season opener.
-- Defensive lineman Stanley Doughty (24 tackles in 2005), who played most of last season at 330 pounds, has been placed on a special diet to facilitate weight loss. "He's trying to eat correctly and lose some weight," Spurrier said. "If we can get Stanley down to 300 or 295 (pounds), he could really help us and be an outstanding player."
-- Spurrier praised junior defensive tackle Marque Hall for an excellent summer. "He's doing super in the summer workouts," Spurrier said. Hall made one start in 2005 (Georgia) and finished with 14 tackles and one sack.
-- While junior college transfer Jasper Brinkley is the clear favorite to start at middle linebacker, Spurrier said the two outside linebackers jobs are "up for grabs." He identified incoming freshman Rodney Paulk as someone with a chance to earn a starting job.
-- The renovation of the players' dorms has been completed. The bigger players received king-size beds, while the smaller players received new beds. New carpet was also installed. "The dorms look much better," Spurrier said.
-- It appears reserve quarterback Tommy Beecher will remain with the Gamecocks after contemplating a transfer after spring practice. Beecher has participated in the summer conditioning program and will compete for the backup QB job behind Blake Mitchell.
-- USC's capital campaign to improve and upgrade the athletic facilities is "rolling," Spurrier said. He added that the university will soon announce a major donation to the campaign. He declined to identify the donor or the amount of the gift.
-- Spurrier predicted the reaction of Florida fans will be "very positive" when he attends the celebration of the 10th anniversary of Florida's 1996 national championship team on Sept. 2 in the Swamp. " I think most of them understand the circumstances of why I'm not there now," Spurrier said. "I look forward to seeing a lot of players on the '96 team. It's something I think I need to do and I look forward to doing." Spurrier plans to fly into Gainesville about 12 noon on the day of the game and leave after the first quarter before heading back to Columbia to start preparations for the home opener against SEC East rival Georgia on Sept. 9 at Williams-Brice Stadium.
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