LAURENS - Steve Spurrier said when spring practice started five weeks ago he hoped to name a starting quarterback following last Saturday's Garnet and Black game at Williams-Brice Stadium.
Tuesday night, he did just that.
Except it wasn't the guy many fans thought would win the job when spring practice got underway Match 19.
Redshirt junior Tommy Beecher, who considered transferring out of the Gamecock program two summers ago when his prospects for playing time appeared slim, will be the No. 1 quarterback when fall camp opens in early August, Spurrier told a crowd of about 400 fans at the Laurens County Gamecock Club meeting held at the Exchange Building on the grounds of the Laurens County Fairgrounds.
"If we had to play tomorrow, Tommy Beecher would be our quarterback," Spurrier said.
Beecher earned the No. 1 spot by slightly outperforming Chris Smelley in last Saturday's spring game. The Concord, N.C. native completed nine-of-20 passes for 131 yards, including 8-of-16 in the first half with a 34-yard TD toss to Dion Lecorn. He threw three of the eight interceptions.
Smelley connected on 13 of 30 passes for 219 yards and five interceptions.
Spurrier explained the reasons for his decision to the Laurens County crowd, adding that things could change in the fall when USC practices 29 times before hosting
"Tommy has outperformed Chris in the scrimmages and in the (spring) game last week," Spurrier said. "As they go through the summer and as we go through the scrimmages in the pre-season, who knows what can happen. But right now Tommy Beecher would be our starter."
At his press conference immediately following the spring game, Spurrier said Beecher had performed better than Smelley, but that both quarterbacks were still fairly even, just as they had been for most of the spring.
As a result, Spurrier initially declined to name a No. 1 quarterback going into the summer, saying fall camp would decide the winner.
However, in the 72 hours since the conclusion of the spring game, Spurrier changed his mind and decided to tab Beecher as the guy.
"Tommy is a young man who can run around a little bit," Spurrier said. "He's going into his fourth year here. As a coach, you'd love to have a fourth or fifth year quarterback. Tommy Beecher can throw the ball, he can run around."
A mathematics major, Beecher has captured the prestigious Andrew Sorensen Scholar Athlete Award the last two years and carries a near perfect grade point average.
"Tommy is the smartest guy on the team," Spurrier said. "He has a chance to be a really good player for us. We'll see how it works out. We're looking forward to seeing what happens. The team is pumped up."
Beecher signed with USC in 2005 and redshirted that season while Blake Mitchell led USC to a 7-5 record. After Smelley signed with USC in February of 2006, Beecher contemplated transferring to a smaller school closer to his North Carolina home, but decided to remain at USC after talking it over with Spurrier and his family.
In 2006, Beecher served as the third-team quarterback behind Mitchell and Smelley, completing both of his passes for 19 yards and one touchdown. He biggest moment came when he replaced Mitchell for one play against Clemson and produced a 16 yard gain in a key situation.
Beecher saw his playing time increase in 2007. He saw his most significant action in the season opener against Louisiana-Lafayette when Mitchell was suspended for excessive class absences.
Beecher completed 11 of 15 passes for 137 yards and one touchdown in win over the Ragin Cajuns. Two weeks later, he completed 3 of 7 passes for 38 yards against S.C. State. He attempted just one pass the rest of the season as Smelley and then Mitchell seized the QB reins.
The struggles by the offense in the spring game didn't surprise Spurrier, even though the defense played without a half dozen key starters, including middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley, cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and strong safety Emanuel Cook.
"In the spring game, the defense usually gets the better of the offense at most schools around the country," Spurrier said.
Spurrier, again lauding new defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, told the crowd the 2008 Gamecock defense could be better than some of the defenses he had at Florida in the 1990's. He noted that the 1999 USC defense finished 11th in the nation despite the 0-11 record.
"I really believe we have better athletes (on defense)," Spurrier said. "Ellis Johnson is a proven defensive coordinator that is really going to help our defense. Time will tell. But I really believe we're going to be a much better defensive team because of Ellis and our players are better athletes than what we've had there."
Spurrier continued: "Defensively, we return almost everybody. Overall, our defense has better players. They're bigger and stronger. They've been in the weight room."
Spurrier noted Johnson has a clause in his contract providing for a bonus if USC finishes among the top six defensive teams in the conference.
Despite the inconsistency of the offensive line over the last couple of seasons, Spurrier still supports line coach John Hunt, who has coached with Spurrier for over a decade at three different spots - Florida, the Washington Redskins and USC.
"We've been very average (on the offensive line)," Spurrier said. "Coach Hunt works his tail off and works as hard as any coach we've got. Hopefully, those guys will come around and we believe they will."
-- Athletic director Eric Hyman offered a 15-minute presentation to the Laurens crowd detailing the facility improvements ongoing at USC, including the new academic enrichment center, the expanded football training room at Williams-Brice Stadium and the new $36 million baseball stadium. Hyman told the crowd that the stadium is about 20 percent complete and is on schedule to be completed by the fall. A $500,000 feasibility study is currently being prepared on the proposed 6,000 to 8,000 seat expansion of the North End zone area at Williams-Brice Stadium.
-- Hyman told the crowd that new suites called the "Champions Club" are being constructed at Sections 208 and 209. If that project is successful, Hyman said USC will build similar suites for Sections 200 and 2001.
-- Spurrier said new special teams coordinator Ray Rychleski, who is single, is "married to coaching." Spurrier said his love is football. "I don't choose that lifestyle, but he does," Spurrier said. "He loves everything about coaching. He's brought some toughness to our team. He's a driven football coach."
-- Spurrier said freshman defensive back Jay Spearman of nearby Greenwood will undergo surgery on his shoulder 'within a week or so.' If he's not physically ready for the upcoming season, he'll be redshirted, he said.
-- When it comes to facing prominent teams like Georgia, Florida and Tennessee, Spurrier said USC is "in the ballgame" in terms of competing but "we're not there yet". Spurrier said USC must begin by dominating inferior opponents, which hasn't happened yet. "My goal is to give Gamecock fans a big winner, not just a winning season," Spurrier said. "I took this job to win the SEC Championship and we can do it. We have a lot of good players here now."
-- Hyman told the crowd that Houston Texan owner Bob NcNair spoke to the football team. He also met with former Gamecock RB Cory Boyd, who is expected to be selected in the middle rounds of this weekend's NFL Draft.
-- Spurrier again said 15 of the 17 seniors this past season will graduate by May. Ten graduated in December, including Blake Mitchell and Cory Boyd.
-- Spurrier said ESPN "has really helped" the USC program grow and become known nationally by televising numerous Gamecock football games. USC opens the 2008 season with a pair of Thursday night games.
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