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Michael Carvell

Steve Spurrier defies old age on the recruiting trail

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The Ageless Ball Coach (AP)

The Ageless Ball Coach? (AP)

You would think that Steve Spurrier has gotten younger, not older.

Only a few years ago, opposing teams were hammering South Carolina on the recruiting trail by planting ideas in heads of recruits that Spurrier was on the brink of retirement.

But three straight seasons of 11-2 records and top-10 finishes have pretty much terminated those “negative recruiting” rumors.

Spurrier, who will turn 69 years old in April, just smiled when asked about the topic in an interview with the AJC on Tuesday.

“That’s just other coaches guessing,” Spurrier said. “I will tell you what is neat. You look around at college basketball now, and there’s Jimmy Boeheim, who is almost 70 years old. He has got the only undefeated team in the country. Larry Brown is at SMU. He’s 73, and I think they’re a top 10 team. Mike Krzyzewski is in his upper 60s and so forth. Coaches don’t get fired for being older coaches. They get fired for not winning. That’s why there’s not a bunch of old coaches out there because, along the way, almost everybody gets fired. That’s just the way it is.

“Physically and hopefully mentally, I’m the same as I was 20 years ago. I can still call the plays and all of that. I probably do more as a head coach than 90-percent of the guys out there, as far as game day and calling the plays. There are not many head coaches who call the plays anymore. So really, age is just a number.

“It all comes down if you are winning and losing, if you’re recruiting well, and if your program is on the upbeat and it’s positive. That’s what we all shoot for and obviously it’s not that easy to do.

“But the age of a coach really has nothing to do with it.”

The only two SEC teams that finished in the AP Top 10 each of the last three years (AP)

Coaches of the only two SEC teams that finished in the AP Top 10 each of the last three years (AP)

Spurrier has found the fountain of youth on the recruiting trail, particularly in Georgia. South Carolina finished with a top 15 class in the 247sports.com composite rankings with 21 signees, including five from Georgia.

“We don’t run into much of any negative recruiting around here as SEC coaches,” Spurrier said. “We were involved with a player who was being recruited by a Big Ten school. They got negative a little bit with ‘There’s a lot of crime in Columbia, the big city. They don’t graduate their players,’ which was completely untrue. They searched for a little bit of everything but the player came with us anyways.”

What does Spurrier say when people ask him how much longer he’s going to coach?

“I’ve been saying ‘four or five more years’ since I was 55. And now I’m 68 and I say ‘Three or four more.’ I will probably be saying that next hopefully if we’re winning, recruiting well, and everybody is happy. Hopefully that’s what I’ll say next year. Who knows?”

You could make the argument that no out-of-state school recruited the state of Georgia’s “elite prospects” better this year than South Carolina and Auburn. Both SEC schools landed three out of the Georgia’s consensus top 15 prospects.

“South Carolina and Alabama are the only two SEC teams that have finished in the top 10 the last three years,” Spurrier said. “We’ve gone 11-2 the last three years. Our university is almost the perfect distance from the Atlanta area for a young man to go to college. It’s 2.5 or three hours to drive, and his parents can almost come and see him play in every game. We’ve got a good program here. We graduate our players. We’ve sent a bunch of guys to the NFL. And we’re winning.

“But we have not won the SEC yet. So that is a goal that is still out there that we hope to achieve within the next three or four years.”

Steve Spurrier

Steve Spurrier: “Physically and hopefully mentally, I’m the same as I was 20 years ago”

South Carolina’s biggest recruiting victory in Georgia was Cedar Grove High School linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams, the state’s No. 6 overall prospect. The 4-star linebacker committed early to the Gamecocks, and stuck with his original decision after causing panic attacks among South Carolina fans with official visits to Alabama and UGA during the final two weekends before signing day.

“We felt good about Bryson Allen-Williams all the way through,” Spurrier said. “Sometimes you wonder why these young men want to go visit, but it’s a free trip and they get to look around and see different places. I know I did it when I was being recruited back in the 60s. I enjoyed visiting Duke University and watching a basketball game. I went up to Kentucky and watched one in January or February.

“So it’s sort of fun going on visits. We felt pretty good that Bryson was with us all the way. Alabama and Georgia was trying to change his mind but fortunately they didn’t do it.”

Perhaps just as impressive was South Carolina’s courtship of M.L. King High School’s Wesley Green, the state’s No. 12 prospect. He committed early to South Carolina, backed of his pledge because he wasn’t hearing from the coaches as much as he would’ve liked, and then signed with the Gamecocks over UGA last week.

You almost never see a kid go back with the school he de-committed from. South Carolina’s coaches deserve a lot of credit for rebuilding the relationship.

“That’s true, you don’t see that a lot,” Spurrier said. “Wesley committed, uncommitted and opened it back up. I think the best opportunity for Wesley is at the University of South Carolina. He’s a defensive corner and we have a huge need for defensive corners. Both of our starting corners left after last year. We don’t have a lot of guys behind them. We will, in all likelihood, start a true freshman at defensive corner.”

South Carolina also edged Missouri for North Gwinnett High School defensive end Dante Sawyer, the state’s No. 7 prospect. Sawyer’s stock blew up after registering three sacks in the Army All-America Bowl. Other colleges tried to come in late, but Sawyer declined interest.

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Got an item? mcarvell@ajc.com

mcarvell@ajc.com

– By Michael Carvell, AJC’s Recruiting Blog

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