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Թϱ football's new-look roster prioritizes competition, versatility during spring practice

<p>Head football coach Shane Beamer addresses the media at the Long Family Football Operations Center on Oct. 10, 2023. Beamer discussed the Tennessee game on Sept. 30, 2023, where the team lost 41-20.</p>
Head football coach Shane Beamer addresses the media at the Long Family Football Operations Center on Oct. 10, 2023. Beamer discussed the Tennessee game on Sept. 30, 2023, where the team lost 41-20.

Head football coach Shane Beamer is looking to foster versatility and competition during spring training this year, which started on March 19.

Every player, regardless of experience, must earn their spot on the Թϱ football team's starting lineup for the 2024 season, he said. 

“I told our team this morning that, 'I don’t care what you did last season. I don’t care what you did last year if it was your senior year in high school or you were at a different school,'" Beamer said. "We’re all starting fresh today, and we all have something to prove.”

Ahead of Թϱ’s Garnet and Black Spring Game, the dominant question remains who the team's starting quarterback will be in the fall. The Gamecocks' former starter, Spencer Rattler, announced last November that he was declaring for the NFL Draft following Թϱ’s 2023 season. 

Թϱ has four quarterbacks on its roster heading into the 2024 campaign — freshman Dante Reno, redshirt freshman LaNorris Sellers, redshirt senior Robby Ashford and graduate student Davis Beville. Redshirt senior Luke Doty also has experience playing quarterback for the Gamecocks, having appeared in 17 games at the position, but he is not listed as a quarterback on the roster after spending most of last season as a wide receiver.

Three of the four quarterbacks are new to the program. Ashford and Beville joined Թϱ via the transfer portal from Auburn and Oklahoma, respectively, and Reno is making his introduction to collegiate football with the team this year.

Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains said competition for the starting quarterback position is wide open and that "every day's an interview” in terms of evaluating where all four quarterbacks stand in relation to one another.

“The guy that gets the team in the end zone the most will have the greater chance to be the (quarterback), and that’s what we’re going to judge it on,” Loggains said. 

A vacant quarterback position isn’t the only focal point for the Gamecocks ahead of the 2024 season. Թϱ saw 21 players enter the transfer portal at the end of last season, so many new faces had to be brought in to replace them at other positions.

Beamer said the team possesses a lot of youth, whether it be from younger transfer portal acquisitions or incoming freshman recruits, which also generates competition within the team.

“We’re very young,” Beamer said. “There’s a lot of guys that just went through their first practice ever as a Թϱ football player.”

Another big change for Թϱ during the offseason was its revamped coaching staff. The Gamecocks have attained new hires for four different roles, including a wide receivers coach, tight ends coach, running backs coach and special teams coordinator.

Despite this, Beamer said he is optimistic about the new staff because it brings energy and intensity to the locker room.

“I’m really, really excited about this coaching staff that we’ve put together,” Beamer said. “Things kind of a roundabout way of getting there, but at the end of the day, I'm convinced it all worked the way that it was supposed to work out.” 

On the defensive side of the ball, Թϱ had an underwhelming 2023 season. It gave up 26.3 points and 395.8 yards of offense per game.

But amid all the changes to Թϱ's roster, its defense will be a source of familiarity this season. Multiple starting-caliber players decided to stay with the team as well as the entire defensive coaching staff.

“To me, the way things went last year — and for most of our defensive guys to come back — to me that says a lot about our culture, our program, the defense that we have here and what guys really want," defensive coordinator and inside linebackers coach Clayton White said. "Everybody has options. Coaches and players all have options, and we’re back.” 

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One of Թϱ's most notable returning starters on defense is redshirt senior linebacker Debo Williams, who was a leading member of the team's defense last year. He led the Gamecocks in solo (67), assisted (46) and total tackles (113) and played a key part in its push toward bowl eligibility, which fell just short in the end.

But that push saw the team's defense improve at the end of the season, holding each of its final three opponents to 16 points or fewer.

Williams could have decided to transfer given the success he had last season, but he chose to stay with the Gamecocks. He announced his commitment only 12 days after Թϱ's final game.

“One of my biggest reasons for coming back is I felt like, as a team, we didn’t finish the way we wanted to. We got unfinished business,” Williams said. “I want to go down as one of the Թϱ greats, and I feel like I have the opportunity to do that.”

The Gamecocks will have an opportunity to showcase its new-look roster and coaching staff when the team plays its annual Garnet and Black Spring Game on April 20 at Williams-Brice Stadium. The game will kick off at 7 p.m.


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