COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - All gas. No brakes.
That was the initial mantra adopted by Will Muschamp and the South Carolina Gamecocks following their Outback Bowl win over Michigan.
The focus seemingly shifted immediately to the spring once Carolina's business was done in Tampa. Nearly three months removed from the big win, the Gamecocks now set their sights on improving with spring practice officially beginning on Wednesday.
"It's all important," Muschamp said when asked about the importance of spring practice. "It comes down to how you do on gameday. Certainly, when you build a foundation of your team, this is where it starts and each team is different. I told the team when we had a team meeting in January that the 2018 football team starts today. It doesn't start in August when you report to camp. It starts right now and you've got to continue to build that."
The Gamecocks, like every Division I football team, will have 15 practices to prepare for the upcoming season. The Gamecocks are starting early and will hold their Garnet & Black Spring Game on March 31 to help with their timing to prepare for the season.
"The two most important things, to me, as far as our team is concerned is our team and their health and recruiting," Muschamp said. "There's no other SEC team that's having a spring game on March 31. So, I'm not competing with anybody to get a young man on our campus on March 31 from that standpoint. The first standpoint is our team and our health. We have a spring game on March 31. If there is an injury, I've got another month for a young man to get back for the fall. That's a whole-nother month to get ready instead of having it on April 21 and you've got to wait a week to have surgery and now you're drifting into May. So, the two most important things to me is our team and recruiting and that's going to help as much as anything."
Another thing that will help the Gamecocks moving forward is having 13 midyear enrollees who will be able to participate in spring practice. With those new faces around the facility and on the practice field, Muschamp and his coaching staff can now get an idea of what their new signees will bring to the table.
"We need to find out who can help us. We don't have a deep enough roster right now to get anybody's feet wet. At the end of the day, we're going to throw them in the ocean and see what happens," Muschamp said. "I've been very pleased with those guys, their work ethic, and how they've come in and worked, and I've continued to see improvement just in the three weeks we've been with them, just in how they've continued to evolve. They get an opportunity to go out for 15 days and prove their mettle and see what they can do for our football team to help us. If they can help us, they're going to play. It's no different than what I told them in recruiting: if you're good enough, you'll play. If you're the best, you'll start. That's up to you, not me."
Another face that will be around for spring practice is wide receiver Deebo Samuel. An early candidate for the Heisman Trophy a year ago, the former Chapman star returns to Carolina after suffering a broken leg. For the Gamecocks, having the star receiver back will provide a tremendous boost for the team.
"I saw him attack the offseason like I felt he would. The injuries were obviously very frustrating for him, but he's a great young man, and he understands the situation. Control what you can control is what we talk about all the time. The injuries happen. We can grieve about it for a short time, but we've got to get ready to move on, and that's what he's done and done quickly. I'm extremely proud of how he's approached the offseason and how he's worked. We're going to gradually move him through spring as he sees fit. He's been cleared, and he looks good."
South Carolina will open spring practice on Wednesday morning. The Garnet & Black Spring Game will be played on March 31.