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July 5, 2006Hutch Eckerson comes from a family full of North Carolina State fans.
But all it takes is a few minutes of conversation with the large-sized native of Lumberton, N.C., to realize his heart is 100 percent with the Gamecocks.
Eckerson, one of the top offensive linemen from the Tar Heel state last year, arrived in Columbia last week along with the rest of the 2006 class and went through orientation. He will begin the summer conditioning program this week.
He will take two classes during the second session of summer school before taking a standard course load in the fall. He knows summer conditioning will be difficult at times until his body gets used to it.
"It's going to be tough at first," Eckerson said. "Thank God I've been running as much as I have been."
Anticipating what's about to occur, Eckerson has been staunchly dedicated for weeks to a workout regime that he feels will prepare him physically for the punishment of SEC football.
"I've been in a pretty good groove since a few weeks before graduation," Eckerson said. "I've been doing the workout plan they sent me after I signed. I've been following it closely. The running has been tough but I feel I'm in good shape. I've been working my tail off."
Eckerson was listed at 6-foot-6, 285 pounds when he signed in February. Since then, he has gained 10 pounds.
Just like the coaches wanted him to do.
"They wanted me at 295 (pounds) and that's where I am now," Eckerson said. "(Offensive Line) Coach (John) Hunt is very happy."
Eckerson is part of a heralded offensive line class that Spurrier and Hunt brought in. Three or four of the eight players will likely play in 2005, while the rest will redshirt.
"Everybody is going to work real hard," Eckerson said. "The best man will win the position. We'll see what happens. I've been preparing myself to play. I'll be ready. Coach Spurrier asked me at the spring game if I would be ready to play. I said 'Yes, sir.' I'm ready and I just need to get reps against our defense and continue to run and do what I've been doing, I'll be more than ready to step up and participate."
Eckerson is looking forward to developing deeper his pass-blocking skills in Spurrier's pass-oriented offense.
"I love to pass block," Eckerson said. "It's always been my strong point. I'm definitely geared up for that. Coach Spurrier is a one-of-a-kind coach. He's an offensive genius and a great person. I'm really glad to have him as a coach."
Eckerson was a four-year starter at Lumberton (N.C.) High School. Rivals.com rated him as one of the top 10 players in North Carolina regardless of position, and as the No. 21 offensive tackle in the nation.
Both of Eckerson's parents graduated from North Carolina State. His father even played football for the Wolfpack. Still, Eckerson says, they allowed him to reach his own decision and put no pressure on him to play for the Wolfpack.
His friends and acquaintances were another matter, though.
"From people outside of my family, there was were some under-the-breath comments," Eckerson said. "But from my family there was no pressure. My father said it was up to me. They told me I made the right decision when it was all said and done with. It was my decision and they backed me 100 percent. We couldn't be happier. My parents feel real good about everything. This is where I want to be. I wouldn't trade it for the world."
After eliminating schools such as North Carolina, North Carolina State and Virginia from consideration, the final decision came down to Virginia Tech and USC.
The prospect of playing for Steve Spurrier as he tries to establish a winning tradition at USC convinced Eckerson that Columbia was the best place for him.
"It's a lot of fun having so many guys of the same age going through it for the first time," Eckerson said. "That's definitely one of the reasons I chose South Carolina. It was a big factor. And it seems to be playing out just like I thought. I'm really enjoying that. These are the guys I'm going to be playing with my entire college career and the guys we're going to win big with. It's pretty cool."
Also, while he resides in an ACC-dominated state, the prospect of playing football in the SEC intrigued Eckerson.
"I grew up around the ACC being a (N.C.) State fan and everything," Eckerson said. "I'm getting used to the (SEC) rivalries now. It was a small part of it. But I'm excited about being able to play these teams I've seen on TV but haven't really followed. That's going to be a lot of fun. I'm real happy to be in the SEC for sure."
Eckerson played for North Carolina in the Shrine Bowl and had a role in its 28-24 victory over South Carolina. He played alongside USC signee Pierre Andrews from Charlotte's Independence High on the NC offensive line.
"(Andrews) is a hilarious person," Eckerson said. "He's a good person to be around. He's a good player. I got to know him real well at the Shrine Bowl."
He also talked trash with some of his future USC teammates playing for the Sandlappers.
"I may have talked to them but it wasn't all good things," Eckerson joked. "Those guys are great. I give them a hard time about that game, for sure."
The thought of pass blocking in the future for a quarterback the caliber of Chris Smelley puts a smile on Eckerson's face.
"That pumps me up," Eckerson said. "He's a great guy and he's going to be a phenomenal quarterback. I think he's going to one of the best that South Carolina has ever seen."
Despite being 6-foot-6, 295 pounds, Eckerson is an avid golfer. Off the tee, he can drive a golf ball nearly 360 yards.
"I've hit it pretty far a couple of times," Eckerson said. "I haven't been able to play as much with all my training. I would like to get out on the course on a cool day."
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