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July 27, 2006

Syvelle Newton ready for return

Syvelle Newton says he has again found his health and athleticism. Now, South Carolina's versatile star hopes to recover his role with the Gamecocks.

"I'm going into camp with something on my shoulders," Newton said Thursday. "I feel like I've got to make a name for myself again. As of right now, I feel like I have no name, the only thing I have is my number one-three jersey. I'm going to put it on and go out and compete."

When Newton competed in the past, his name was on everyone's lips.

As a sophomore two years ago, Newton set a record for quarterbacks making their first South Carolina start with 324 yards.

Then last year, under first-year coach Steve Spurrier, Newton became a three-faceted offensive star. He lined up at receiver, running back and quarterback, the first player the national championship coach had ever used in that many roles.

Newton looked his best last year against Vanderbilt, passing for two scores and running for a third. It was on that last 10-yard TD run in South Carolina's 35-28 victory that Newton's Achilles' tendon snapped.

He had surgery to reattach the tendon and months of difficult rehab to get through before he could consider hitting the field.

Newton said it was his family that helped him through the mental challenges. "Even those times when I felt like I wanted to quit," he said.

Newton was in a yellow jersey during spring practice as his agility and range of motion gradually increased.

During the offseason, Newton was singled out by Spurrier as among the Gamecocks not at voluntary workouts. Newton said it a misunderstanding between the coaching staff and medical personnel.

"The doctors were telling me to do one thing, I was hearing another thing. It was just a misunderstanding," Newton says, "it kind of made me look bad. But I don't worry about that."

He admits missing the workouts. He says he and Spurrier spoke Wednesday to clear the air.

Spurrier, in Hoover, Ala., for Southeastern Conference media days, jokingly asked Newton where he was.

"You ready to go?" the coach asked perhaps his most talented offensive threat. "Yeah, I'm ready to go," Newton told him, "I'll be ready for camp."

South Carolina's players report Aug. 3 with their first practice scheduled two days later.

"Everybody on this team knows I'm ready to go," he said. "That's all that matters."

Spurrier expects to use Newton in similar roles to last fall, as much to take advantage of his skill as giving opposing defenses something else to worry about.

"We'll get him sort of ready for a lot of different positions," Spurrier said.

Newton worked in passing drills throughout the summer, going step for step with South Carolina's speedy defensive backs. "That lets me know I'm back," he said.

Another indication? Newton passed his conditioning tests Wednesday morning.

"He was keeping up with everybody," Gamecock receiver Noah Whiteside said. "It's great to see him like that."

After the test, Newton rushed off to the team's Pigskin Poets function at the Richland County Public Library's main branch.

Newton came in quickly, no hint of limp, and sat among grade-schoolers in Gamecock jerseys and T-shirts. The player hadn't lost his charisma with youngsters flocking to him to sign posters, caps and shirts.

Tight end Andy Boyd said Newton proved his commitment through the work he did getting ready. "To come off an Achilles' injury, that's probably one of the most serious you can have, and come back and play football, let alone walk again, shows how much he's progressed," Boyd said.

In Newton's mind, he's got much more progress to make.

"It's like I'm a freshman again, starting all over," he said. "I have to kind of make it happen and find a spot this year."

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