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August 8, 2010

Clifford Aiming For More Than No. 3 Role

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Throughout the summer, the talk has been Stephen Garcia against Connor Shaw, Connor Shaw against Stephen Garcia. One vs. two, two vs. one.

What about No. 3?

"Of course I want to compete for No. 1, compete for No. 2," redshirt freshman quarterback Andrew Clifford said on Saturday. "I just want to get myself better every day. If I find myself on the field in the fall, then I did good."

He did good -- really, really good -- on Saturday.

Clifford only missed one pass of 10 attempts during 7-on-7 and team drills on Saturday, helping state his case as one of South Carolina's trio (not just duo) of quarterbacks. While Shaw, the true freshman who claimed the backup role during spring practice, has been a hot topic during the summer due to coach Steve Spurrier seemingly handing him the reins should Garcia not pass the test, Clifford has had a very solid first week of camp.

A Tampa native like Garcia, Clifford grew up a Spurrier disciple and earned a scholarship after throwing for over 3,700 yards and 30 touchdowns at Wharton (Fla.) High School. He redshirted the 2009 season, his first at USC, but became known for having an extremely strong arm.

It was on display on Saturday. Clifford looked masterful at short routes, throwing darts to his receivers and showing a solid feel for checking down and not locking onto one target. He also showed off the arm, tossing one long sidearm pass to Alshon Jeffery for a first down.

"I just want to get myself better so when the time comes, I'm ready to go," Clifford said. "I've just got to be prepared, so when I get my chance, I don't blow it."

Shaw seems to have the backup spot but due to three quarterbacks leaving USC in the last year, the depth chart is limited. The only other two QBs on the roster are true freshman Dylan Thompson and walk-on Seth Strickland, so Clifford seems to have a solid lock on the third position.

Not that he sees himself as pigeonholed into that spot. Clifford figures he's there to challenge for the No. 1 spot.

That's why his summer was spent shedding 15 pounds and working on a quicker release, predicated by the Gamecocks' necessity toward moving to a more mobile offense. Clifford spent June and July in Columbia, conditioning and working with his receivers; May had a couple of weekends back home in Tampa, but also working to get better.

"I got a lot of friends in Tampa, a lot of athletes," Clifford said. "Christian Green from Florida State, I'm good friends with him. We'd go out and throw the ball around."

The extra work helped. Clifford has spent the first week of camp as a more polished, poised quarterback.

"Last year as a freshman, I came out here and made great throws, some luck, some skill," Clifford said. "But now I can make throws and know where to go. Knowing where to go with the ball instead of just going back and gunning it. I'm a lot more comfortable now."

The constant talk of Garcia and Shaw hasn't bothered him, he says. He continues to work, just as they do, with the Gamecocks' options and tries every play to improve himself.

"Definitely fun out here finding some new toys, like Ace (Sanders) and Nick (Jones)," Clifford said. "They're all improving and we're a lot more talented this year than we were last year. I think we're going to have a lot of fun this year."

His ethic has already impressed his teammates.

"He just stays focused," offensive lineman Terrence Campbell said. "It's a competition. You can't get down just because other people talk. You never know what can happen. So he's staying focused and just looking to play out there."

Whether or not that happens remains to be seen. Going by the book, Garcia is the clear starter and Shaw is his backup.

But the book is only a week old. There is still a way to go before Southern Miss visits Columbia to start the 2010 season.

"We're all friends out here, we're all good friends," Clifford said. "We're all a team. It's competition on the field, but you never want to hurt who you're competing with.

"Everybody's going to get their chance around here. If I keep working hard, I'll get a good chance, and if I don't blow it, I'll be ready to play."

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