By Charles Bennett,
Charleston (S.C.) Post & Courier
August 20, 2002
COLUMBIA - When South Carolina coach Lou Holtz held his annual women's clinic in July, more than 1,800 women showed up at Carolina Coliseum. They proved to be a rowdy, rollicking bunch, cheering the highlight tape of last year's football season and roaring their approval at every Holtz one-liner.
"They think we're going to go undefeated," Holtz said. "I can't lower the expectations, nor do I want to. What I try to do is temper it with realism."
Realism, as it relates to football expectations at South Carolina, has long been in short supply. Even though there are enough questions to assume a down year for the Gamecocks, back-to-back winning seasons and Outback Bowl victories over Ohio State have driven expectations through the roof. By Aug. 5, South Carolina had sold out all available season tickets in 80,250-seat Williams-Brice Stadium, despite Holtz's air of caution.
"As long as I've been in this game, I've never had a team I know less about or what to expect," said Holtz, who is entering his 31st season as a head coach and fourth at South Carolina. "When I look at what we lost from last year's football team, I begin to say, how in the world are we going to replace them? We had great players at the corners in Sheldon Brown and Andre Goodman, Ken Harney and Kalimba Edwards at linebacker, the list goes on and on."
South Carolina's back-to-back winning seasons were nothing short of stunning, coming as they did on the heels of a 21-game losing streak and back-to-back seasons of 1-10 and
0-11. Now Holtz will try for another miracle. He'll try to keep the winning going with recruits the Gamecocks signed following those ugly seasons at the heart of this year's team.
"It's hard to recruit off 1-10 and 0-11," Holtz said, "but we got some good football players out of those two classes."
As many as 10 players signed in 1999 or 2000 could be in the starting lineup when the Gamecocks open the season Aug. 31 against New Mexico State. Some of them, including nose guard Langston Moore, fullback Andrew Pinnock and tailback Ryan Brewer, are proven SEC-caliber talent and stand to finish their careers as four-year contributors. Others, including juco transfers James Adkisson (wide receiver) and Corey Jenkins (quarterback), are hoping to have big impacts for the first time.
In fact, the lineup will be fairly sprinkled with unproven commodities, which is another reason Holtz is so uncertain. It all starts with Jenkins, the 25-year-old former minor league baseball player who steps into the starting lineup at quarterback after playing sparingly in a reserve role last season.
"I know less about our quarterback than any quarterback I've ever had," Holtz said. "I don't know what to expect."
Based on what he has shown so far, Jenkins will be a formidable runner in a solid backfield with Brewer and the massive Pinnock, a 6-0, 255-pound power back Holtz compares favorably with Jerome Bettis. In fact, Jenkins also draws favorable comparisons with yet another former Notre Dame star coached by Holtz.
"Corey Jenkins is a great leader and the toughest young man I've ever coached, bar none," Holtz said. "I don't think he'll play as a quarterback in the NFL, but I think he'll play there as a free safety. He's got a very strong arm. He's quicker than I thought; he has more speed than I thought. He loves the game. He loves everything about it. I'm anxious to see him. He has a lot of the qualities that Tony Rice has."
If Jenkins can pass as competently as Rice could, at least one major question will be answered. Then again, the question of who is going to be catching the passes from Jenkins also looms as a major concern.
Adkisson rates as the Gamecocks' most talented receiver, but he must overcome a penchant for dropping passes, then falling into a funk. If Adkisson is mentally ready, he could be a major weapon. Matthew Thomas, Andrea Gause and Michael Ages are receivers with limited experience who will be counted on to help. The incoming class brings Troy Williamson, a SuperPrep All-American with sprinter's speed.
"We have more talent at wide receiver than we've ever had," Holtz said. "We have more speed at wide receiver. We could put together an excellent 4x100 relay team from our wide receivers. They just don't catch very well."
A secret weapon may be tight end Hart Turner, if the Gamecocks will only throw to him. Turner had two receptions in the spring game, one an athletic grab in the end zone on a 24-yard pass from Jenkins. South Carolina got only one reception out of the tight end position last season.
If the receivers can stretch opposing defenses a bit, it may be enough for Pinnock, Brewer and Jenkins, who will be operating behind an experienced line. Center C.J. Frye, guards Shane Hall and Cedric Williams, and tackle Travelle Wharton are capable of All-SEC seasons. Watts Sanderson, the fifth starter, finally has played himself into the lineup as a senior and is considered a steady performer.
On defense, the most glaring questions are at cornerback, where the Gamecocks must replace Brown and Goodman, a pair of NFL draft choices. Isaac Stackhouse and Dunta Robinson, who played as backups last season, have the edge on the starting spots, but a pair of junior college transfers - Taqiy Muhammad and Corey Peoples - figure to contribute.
The Gamecocks should be solid at linebacker with Rod Thomas, Jermaine Lemon and Jeremiah Garrison all returning with experience. Redshirt freshman Lance Laury, the surprise of the spring, could wind up a starter at one of the spots, and Ricardo Hurley, the crown jewel of the Gamecocks' heralded recruiting class, figures to play as a backup.
South Carolina's depth on the defensive line is suspect, but the starters - Moore, Dennis Quinn and George Gause - are solid. Junior college transfer Randy Jackson and freshman Moe Thompson also will be in the mix.
The kicking game should be sound with kicker Dan Weaver and punter Tyeler Dean returning.
Clearly, there are enough questions surrounding this year's South Carolina team to think the Gamecocks could regress from last year's 9-3 record. However, Holtz isn't ready to concede.
"Did we come close to reaching our potential? To me, I think that's how you measure a team," Holtz said. "I'll tell you right now, our goal is to win a championship. I know about all those great teams on our schedule, but I will not undersell this football team, and I believe they are capable of winning the (SEC) championship."