SEC FOOTBALL SERIES
Today: South Carolina
Camp start: Wednesday
Opener: Sept. 3 against East Carolina in Charlotte (7 p.m. on FoxSS)
Fun fact: The Gamecocks swept the "Orange Crush" portion of their schedule [Tennessee, Florida and Clemson] last season for the first time since joining the SEC in 1992, and they won all three games by at least two touchdowns.
South Carolina tailback Marcus Lattimore and receiver Alshon Jeffery are entering the 2011 college football season as two of the most recognized offensive talents in the country.
So imagine how easy they are to spot on campus and around Columbia.
Lattimore, who rushed for 1,198 yards last year as a true freshman, and Jeffery, who had 1,517 receiving yards as a sophomore, share the desire to get loose on the field and to get away when they're not in uniform.
"We'll go to the lake and chill out," Lattimore said. "We'll go fishing. We'll go bowling. We do everything together."
The two Gamecocks stars cherish the tranquil times as much as they savor more than 80,000 fans at Williams-Brice Stadium appreciating their efforts. Down time is especially important to Jeffery, who is the quiet one of the pair, and there doesn't appear to be even a hint of jealousy between them.
While Jeffery had the bigger performances in South Carolina's upset of top-ranked Alabama and its 29-7 pounding of Clemson in Death Valley, it was Lattimore who powered the Gamecocks in key victories over East Division rivals Georgia and Florida. In those two games combined, Lattimore had 77 carries for 394 yards and five touchdowns.
"I don't compete over touches," Jeffery said. "If it was up to me to choose, I would prefer that Marcus touch the ball."
Coach Steve Spurrier is just happy to have such a selection.
The 6-foot, 231-pound Lattimore was Rivals.com's No. 1 tailback nationally in the 2010 signing class, but Spurrier repeatedly has said he wasn't sure what he had until Lattimore produced 182 yards on 37 rushes in the second game against Georgia. His instant success gave Spurrier the option of running the football when defenses were keying on Jeffery.
When Lattimore was the focus, Jeffery had less attention and feasted. The 6-4, 233-pounder needs just 814 yards to become the SEC's career leader in receiving yardage, a feat he could accomplish in two and a half seasons.
"What we like about Alshon and Marcus is that they're two men you can brag on, but it doesn't affect them at all," Spurrier said. "They're two of our best workers. Marcus gets the hardest worker in the weight room every spring, and Alshon has improved his speed and body size."
Spurrier believes this is the best assemblage of players he's had in his seven seasons, and that has been reflected by South Carolina's standing as the preseason favorite for a second straight East crown. The Gamecocks have been to five bowl games in Spurrier's first six seasons, the most of any coach in program history, and were bowl-eligible all six years.
Whether this year's team becomes only the second in program history to win 10 or more games may depend on fifth-year senior quarterback Stephen Garcia, who has been suspended five times, including twice this year. That's a big concern, but Garcia certainly has support where it matters.
"Everybody makes mistakes and has a chance to grow," Lattimore said. "I think he's grown as a man."
Said Jeffery: "We believe in Stephen, so no matter what he goes through, we've got his back."