Steve Spurrier won the ACC championship as the head coach at Duke in 1989. He won six SEC championships and a national championship at Florida. But some of his best work was done in his 11 seasons at South Carolina (2005-2015).
In a four-year stretch under Spurrier, the Gamecocks won the SEC East title in 2010 and then put together an unprecedented three straight 11-win seasons (2011-2013).
Spurrier has no doubt about what got that run started in Columbia.
It started when Stephon Gilmore, a highly-recruited defensive back out of Rock Hill, S.C., signed with the Gamecocks in 2009. And right after that the Gamecocks got Alshon Jeffery, an incredibly skilled wide receiver from St. Matthews, S.C.
“When we got Stephon we really started making progress,” said Spurrier, now the ambassador for the athletics department at Florida. “Then Alshon came. We really started getting some of the national guys. We even beat out Alabama for a couple of them.”
Getting Gilmore and Jeffery was the beginning of the best recruiting run in the history of the school. A year later the Gamecocks signed running back Marcus Lattimore and then in 2011 came Jadaveon Clowney. Despite two serious injuries, Lattimore became the school’s all-time leader with 38 rushing touchdowns. Clowney, a defensive lineman, would become the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
But it all began with Gilmore and Jeffery. Gilmore is now the best defensive back on the New England Patriots. Jeffery is now an outstanding receiver (57 catches, 789 yards in 2017) for the Philadelphia Eagles. Late Sunday they will square off in Super Bowl 52 in Minnesota.
“A lot of people don’t know this but Alshon originally committed to USC,” said Spurrier.
Well, actually, a lot of people did know that Jeffery took a hard look at Southern Cal and decided to stay closer to home. USC assistant coach Lane Kiffin was not thrilled when he heard the news and told Jeffery, according to several published reports, that if he went to South Carolina he would end up “pumping gas like the rest of the players who stayed at home to play for South Carolina.” Kiffin denied he ever said it. Over the years Jeffery has stuck to his guns.
The two players were roommates at South Carolina but they set a very aggressive tone in practice against one another.
“It was just good football,” Spurrier recalled. “Both of them are quiet guys but they are two of my favorite players.”
Now the journey of these two Gamecocks stars has taken them to football’s biggest stage. It will be fun watching them get after it.