HOOVER, Ala. - Dylan Thompson learned patience, among other things, while backing up Connor Shaw over the past three seasons as he became the winningest quarterback in program history.
With just more than a month separating the Gamecocks from the start of the 2014 season on Aug. 28, Thompson is hoping that patience will translate to wins in his first - and last - season as South Carolina's starting quarterback.
"It's been - I guess - a journey, but I've learned a lot through the process," Thompson said Tuesday at SEC Media Days. "It's been a fun ride. The relationships I have with guys on the team and the staff and around Columbia, it's great. I think it's going to pay off, though. I think the process is what makes people.
"That's in you guys' profession and in football, whatever. I've just enjoyed the process, and I'm excited to see what this year looks like."
Thompson passed for 1,827 yards and scored 19 touchdowns as Shaw's backup and compiled a 3-0 record as a starter.
South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier proudly notes that Thompson, who came on in the first quarter for Shaw at UCF last season, was the "only quarterback in the nation" that beat the Knights, who finished 12-1 and won the Fiesta Bowl.
Getting those opportunities in relief of the oft-injured Shaw has made the process worthwhile, Thompson said.
"I think any time you can get meaningful snaps is huge," he said. " In our offense, timing is really important, so getting it down with those guys in games is different than just going out on the field and throwing some - and that helps too.
"Being able to just be in games and moments that I can get familiar with, I think that's helped a lot."
Spurrier called it "unusual" in the current college football landscape for a quarterback to wait until his fifth year to start.
"Dylan has been very patient," Spurrier said of the Boiling Springs, South Carolina, product.
"He's a five-year guy that has got one year to make his mark in college football," Spurrier said. "He's got one year to do his thing. He is really fired up about it, and he wants to take advantage. I'm going to try my best to give him every opportunity to lead our team and have as good a year as possible."
Thompson will take on additional responsibility to be a team leader this season as the No. 1 quarterback, but he's well accustomed to that. The former two-star prospect has earned high praise from his teammates and coaches for what he brings on and off the field.
"The whole team believes in him, and he is truly a good leader," said Spurrier, who added that Thompson spends plenty of time mentoring freshmen as they arrive on campus in the summer. "He and A.J. Cann, those guys hang around the stadium it seems like all day."
Senior guard A.J. Cann said Thompson has made a seamless transition into a larger leadership role this offseason. Thompson organizes player meetings, spends time in the film room with his teammates and makes sure they know he's got their back, Cann said.
"Dylan's more of a vocal guy (than Shaw was)," Cann said. "He wants the team to know that he's there for him, that he's leading. He's telling them this, and he's telling them that."
"When we're out running or working out, you can hear him across the whole field, you know, 'Let's go, you can do this, let's run it again, we got one more!" Cann added later. "Just things like that, to keep our head up or keep us going. He's that guy."
Being "that guy" comes naturally for Thompson, who received the Dr. Harris Pastides Outstanding Student-Athlete Representative of the University of South Carolina award at the 2014 spring game.
"Being a leader is fun for me; not just in football, but in life," said Thompson. "Being a leader is about caring about people, and that's what I try to do with our team. We have great relationships within our team and our staff."
Thompson credits much of his development on and off the field to Spurrier, a coach - and a former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback - known for being hard on his gunslingers.
Thompson said it's easy to get along well with Spurrier as long as you've got a great work ethic and are willing to be pushed.
"Coach is awesome," Thompson said. "Every time someone asks me how it is playing for him, I say it's just a blast. For me in high school, I played all sports, so I never really concentrated specifically on football. When I got to South Carolina, I knew that he was a perfectionist, so that's been awesome to be able to work with him. You'll have a decent game, and he's just not satisfied, and that's what I love about him."
"I've loved every minute of it," Thompson said.
But Spurrier isn't done pushing his quarterback yet. Thompson recognizes one area of his game he still has to work on: his completion percentage.
Thompson made several huge plays as a backup, including a 32-yard touchdown pass to Bruce Ellington with 11 seconds left in the 2013 Outback Bowl that secured the 33-28 victory and with it, South Carolina's second-straight 11-win season.
But those passes have come along with a few that he wishes he could have back. The 6-foot-3, 218-pounder completes 55 percent of his passes, a rate he knows he needs to improve if South Carolina is to challenge for an SEC Championship this season.
That's why he's worked on it this spring and summer, when he hasn't been gelling with his receivers or taking underclassmen under his wing.
Thompson said he's been charting his throws on seven-on-seven drills to try to determine how his passes can be more precise. He said he thinks it will help him make smarter throws and be safer with the football - something Shaw was known for - this season.
"I feel like it's paying off, and we'll see during the season," Thompson said.
With Thompson running an offense that features a talented running back corps, experienced offensive line and deep group of receivers, South Carolina could be put the best offense in program history on the field this season.
Thompson and Cann appreciate the outside praise they've received in the preseason, but they're more concerned with on-field production. After four years working to earn his spot as the No. 1 quarterback, Thompson knows he'll have to work some more to turn that potential into real success.
"That word ("potential") and "hype" are kind of scary sometimes," said Thompson. "You know, people take it and run with it. But we'll see. We have the talent to definitely make a run and put up some big points on offense, but we've just got to keep grinding.
"Aug. 1 comes, we've got to take those practices and be efficient with those and not waste a rep, but I think we're in a good spot right now. We've got to keep working."