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July 21, 2011
HOOVER, Ala. -- Based on the way he's handled himself this summer, quarterback Stephen Garcia is moving closer to being fully reinstated back to the South Carolina football team.
In fact, head coach Steve Spurrier says it will likely happen.
Speaking Wednesday at SEC Football Media Days, Spurrier told hundreds of reporters that Garcia "in all likelihood" will return to the Gamecocks because "he's done everything we've asked" and complied with the guidelines established by the USC administration.
"He's certainly behaved very well and gone to all the workouts from what I understand," Spurrier said. "He's changed."
Again questioned about his 'unlimited' patience with Garcia in the wake of five suspensions, Spurrier asserted the fifth year senior's "stupidity" shouldn't keep him off the football field, especially since he's already graduated from USC with his degree, will pursue graduate level courses in the fall and has made some fundamental and necessary changes in his life.
Yet, at the same time, he didn't make excuses for some of Garcia's questionable behavior in the past.
"I guess we don't want to kick him out for stupidity," Spurrier said. "He hasn't done a lot of terrible things. He hasn't been arrested or done some of the things he once did. And there are some reasons that he's probably done some things. He has some issues he's trying to straighten out. He's done that the last three or four months. We do believe he's a good kid and a good person. He's really made some lifestyle changes to stay there, I'll leave it at that. Hopefully, it will keep up. We just felt like he was worth giving another opportunity to sort of change his lifestyle and thus far he's done it."
Garcia's pair of suspensions this year didn't result in the redshirt senior getting in trouble with the law. He missed the first three spring practices after breaking curfew a few days before the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta on New Year's Eve. His last suspension was the result of misbehaving during a mandatory seminar several days before the spring game.
Spurrier was asked if he would have gone to the same lengths to help a backup tight end had the circumstances been the same.
"He's not done anything to be arrested, thrown in jail, DUIs, things like that," Spurrier said. "He's just done some stupid things. We're trying to figure out the reasons he did those things so we can help him out so he won't do that anymore. Even if he played another position like tight end, we would try to save him and try to help him."
Spurrier acknowledged the USC coaching staff told Garcia following the incident at the life skills seminar in early April that "he could go play somewhere else if he wanted to, but he wants to stay there."
Garcia's desire to play his final season at USC is understandable. He's close to a couple of major career passing marks and the Gamecocks are talented enough to return to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game.
But Spurrier emphasized that his probable reinstatement doesn't guarantee Garcia anything. The first two weeks of preseason camp should be highlighted by a spirited position battle between Garcia and sophomore Connor Shaw.
"Stephen is going to have to earn the position," Spurrier said. "Connor Shaw is an excellent quarterback. They're going to compete for the starting job in the preseason. I've already told the both of them they're going to fight it out. If he follows the guidelines prescribed for him, Stephen will be there in August ready to battle for the quarterback job. We have two guys ready to play.
"We'll see how it plays out. Everyone assumes Stephen is going to be the quarterback if he's there. But we'll see how Connor performs in preseason and how Stephen performs and go from there. We have a couple of guys who can play. Stephen can play and Connor Shaw can play. We're in pretty good shape at quarterback. I haven't lost any sleep over (Garcia not starting)."
Last year, USC won the SEC East for the first time since joining the conference in 1992. USC hopes to reach the next level in their 20th year of football competition in the toughest league in the country. Winning a SEC title would represent another first in school history.
"That's the fun part, achieving things that never happened before," Spurrier said. "It certainly is for me. Our fans there at South Carolina have paid their dues over the years because not much has happened in football."
While no one expects the football team to duplicate the success of the Gamecock baseball team, Spurrier points to the baseball team as evidence the Gamecocks can succeed on the national level regardless of the sport.
"It sends out a message to all the other sports that, 'Hey, it can be done at South Carolina,'" Spurrier said. "We admire coach Tanner, the team and the way they played. They played like winners. We believe we can win big at South Carolina. It gives us hope that maybe something big in football, basketball and some of the other sports can start happening."
"We have a lot of improving to do," Spurrier said. "We lost our last two games so we're not sitting around patting each other on the back too much. We have a ways to go. We were seventh in offense and seventh in defense in the SEC. We have a ways to go to be a good team."
Spurrier again described running back Marcus Lattimore and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery as tops in the nation at their respective positions. Their decision to sign with USC helped the Gamecocks boost their overall talent level to unprecedented heights, Spurrier said.
"We feel like we've probably assembled the best group of players we've had in the seven years that I've been there," Spurrier said. "But time will tell how this year's team will do. Our program is headed in the right direction, I believe. If it was going bad and we were getting beat, I'd be gone."
-- Spurrier lauded USC's in-state recruiting and the ability to sign some of the top players in the Palmetto State over the last few years. The Gamecocks have signed 'Mr. Football' for three straight years.
-- Spurrier disagreed with SEC Commissioner Mike Slive's proposal to give athletes multi-year scholarships, saying one-year renewable scholarships keep the players on their toes and prevents complacency.
-- When asked how long he expects to continue coaching, Spurrier offered his stock response of four or five more years, but then added, "Maybe I'll start saying three or four more. I don't know. Health-wise, I feel like I did 10 years ago or so."
-- Spurrier said the 2011 coaching staff, which includes the addition of special teams coordinator John Butler, "very easily could be the best coaching staff I've ever had because these assistant coaches can go recruit the guys. I give my little input, but they don't need me hanging around the guys all the time."
-- Spurrier said USC spent about $12,000 on recruiting services last year, putting them at the bottom of the league. Spurrier frowned upon using those services when he was the head coach at Florida, as well. "I read where a lot of schools spend $200,000 to $300,000 on it. We operate pretty cheaply around there for some reason. But I don't think (recruiting services) are necessary. Maybe they can help a little bit, but not too much."
-- In the wake of the Ivy League's decision to cut back on the number of full-contact practices, Spurrier reiterated his philosophy to limit the amount of tackling in practice to help keep his players healthy for the games.
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