August 23, 2007

Eckerson growing, maturing in second season

After starting five games last season as a true freshman, Hutch Eckerson has returned to a backup role on USC's beleaguered offensive line.

Serving on the second-team will allow Eckerson, listed at 6-foot-6 and 291 pounds on USC's official roster, to continue to grow and mature physically and emotionally and further grasp what it takes to become a quality lineman in the SEC.

Eckerson, a native of Lumberton, N.C., is currently behind Justin Sorensen at right tackle. Since Sorensen still has one season of eligibility left after 2007, Eckerson could either beat out the massive Canadian for the spot or try his luck at left tackle.

"(Sorensen) is a great player, a great friend of mine," Eckerson said. "We're helping each other to get better out here every day. I'm able to play tackle on either side."

Eckerson is, so far, part of a group of offensive linemen that head coach Steve Spurrier described Wednesday night following the final scrimmage of fall camp as being "in a wad there somewhere."

"He's out there and doing OK," Spurrier said when asked about Eckerson. "He's about like most of them. He does some good things here and there."

Eckerson came to USC knowing he'd have to increase his size and strength in order to compete with Division I defensive linemen. He says he's now closing in on 300 pounds

"I'm really working hard," Eckerson said. "I think everything will be fine. I've talked about it with (offensive line) Coach (John) Hunt. I think everybody is a lot bigger and stronger over last year. I've made huge increases in the weight room. We know how we are and how we're going to be. I think the fans will be excited watching the O-Line."

Spurrier's confidence in the offensive line seems to ebb and flow on a daily basis. But Eckerson says the unit will figure things out and develop the necessary consistency and chemistry for the Sept. 1 season opener.

"We'll be fine by the time the games start," Eckerson said. "We're excited about this upcoming season. We've got to keep working. We've got a lot of guys and Coach Hunt is trying different combinations, so it will all work out. He's a great coach. He knows what he's doing. He's working us hard and he'll get the most out of us."

Working on a daily basis against USC's extraordinarily deep defensive line has allowed the offensive line to improve, said Eckerson, who identified Eric Norwood as the toughest defensive end to block.

"There are a lot of really good players over on the D-Line," Eckerson said. "They're all big and fast and hard to block. But I think we're still holding our own. The D-ends in the SEC are quick as heck. You have to be just as fast as they are to play in this conference."

Eckerson gained valuable game experience last season when he was inserted into the starting lineup at left tackle for the Wofford game.

He replaced Gurminder Thind, who suffered a season-ending foot injury against Georgia.

He remained a starter for five games (Wofford, FAU, Auburn, Kentucky, Vanderbilt) until additional reshuffling by the coaching staff shifted Jamon Meredith over to the left tackle spot and added Sorensen to the right tackle position.

"Getting that game time experience will definitely help," Eckerson said. "Hopefully, I'll be able to get in there into the mix some this year. It's all about getting stronger and learning my plays. If I can do that, I'll be a starter. That's what I've got to so."

Eckerson eventually appeared in 10 games. After being removed from the starting five, he saw action primarily on special teams the remainder of the season.

Eckerson realizes Spurrier wants the Gamecocks to settle on a starting five along the offensive front more quickly than last season, when it took until the eighth regular season game to determine the unit that finally appeared to click.

"It puts a lot of pressure on us," Eckerson said. "We know we have to settle on the main guys a lot quicker this year and I'm sure we will. We're all learning the assignments and what's expected of us. The more we learn and get better, we'll gel and become a really good offensive line."

Eckerson was a four-year starter at Lumberton High School, where he was an all-conference and all-state selection. He was rated a four-star prospect by and one of the top 10 players regardless of position in North Carolina when he signed with USC in 2006.

Now entering his second season with the Gamecocks, Eckerson is excited for the program's future.

"Who wouldn't be thrilled to be a part of this program right now," Eckerson said. "It's just getting ready to explode. I can't explain how I feel. I'm really excited about this upcoming season and my next two years after that."

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