- Alex Scarborough, ESPN Staff Writer
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There wasn’t any conversation between Steve Spurrier and Dylan Thompson this offseason. The two didn’t need to speak to know the arrangement. With Connor Shaw no longer under center, the job was clearly Thompson’s at South Carolina.
Spurrier, who has never shied away from a quarterback competition, was sure about it. In fact, the head coach of 300 college football games and nine seasons with the Gamecocks didn’t even understand why people were asking.
“Someone said, ‘You’re just naming him the starting quarterback?’ ” Spurrier told ESPN.com. “Well, I just said, ‘Of course I am. Why wouldn’t we?’ He’s a fifth-year senior. He’s the only one with any experience.”
The Head Ball Coach isn’t playing footsie with redshirt sophomore Brendan Nosovitch or former four-star prospect Connor Mitch this spring. It’s Thompson vs. the field, and the field doesn’t stand a chance.
“It’s not like those other guys are going to challenge him,” Spurrier said. “Plus, he’s our best player. I think he’s by far our best player right now.”
Emphatic enough for you?
Now that that’s out of the way, it’s full steam ahead for Thompson, who seems comfortable with the spotlight. He’s 3-0 as a starter with 25 games under his belt, so he knows the offense and won’t wilt under pressure. His arm has never been in doubt, either. He’s a career 120-of-218 passing with 1,827 yards, 14 touchdowns and five interceptions. He won’t run quite as much as Shaw, but he can move around well enough to make a guy miss.
The only real question is whether he’s up for being the guy at South Carolina. He might not have the jitters when it comes to experience or talent, but he’s never had the starting job to himself. He’s never had everyone looking up to him -- not just his teammates, but everyone.
“Being the quarterback at this school and being from in-state, it’s a fun thing,” Thompson said. “It’s a lot of fun having people look at you and ask you stuff wherever you go.”
The questions have changed from “How’s the team looking?” to “Are you ready for this year?” Thompson said. It’s been more pointed, more directed at him. Right or wrong, whether South Carolina wins the SEC East is up to him.
And, by all accounts, he’s fine with that.
This offseason he wanted to stand out as the leader of the team. So every morning he got to the gym first, and every night he was last to leave.
Thompson spent the final spring break of his college career in South Florida, but he wasn’t there for the beaches. Instead, he worked with Ken Mastrole at his passing academy, working on his footwork and mechanics.
Running back Mike Davis, who is no slouch in the gym himself, remembers running the 300-yard shuttle run during winter workouts. Looking ahead, he saw the future starting quarterback leading the pack more often than not. It’s not that he was shocked, Davis explained, but “you could tell from his effort that he was ready to go.”
“Dylan has stepped it up a lot,” Davis said. “As far as taking control of anything, he’s there. As far as any events going on, he’s there. And as far as running as a group, he was the guy trying to be out front, and most of the time he was. If anyone should be impressive this year, it should be Dylan.”
Said Thompson: “I want them to know I’m putting in more time than any quarterback in the SEC and in the country. I’m sure there are a lot of guys that work hard, but I always try to remind myself that there’s somebody at Baylor, at UCLA, at another university that’s working to be great. Where have I done myself today to be great?”
Thompson is working closely with quarterback coach G.A. Mangus. The two “went at it and broke down a lot of my stuff from last year -- what I missed, why I missed on throws, just in-game situations,” Thompson said, noting how a big goal is improve his completion percentage on first down and put the offense in a manageable down and distance.
In other words, he’s not trying to do too much. And considering the help around him on offense, that’s probably a good thing. Davis has emerged as one of the best running backs in the SEC and the group of receivers isn’t too shabby, either.
“I think our offense is really solid, and I think that helps me a lot,” Thompson said. “I think our offensive line is as good as it’s ever been here. We’ve got guys that should be in the NFL next year.”
Thompson raved about receivers Shaq Roland (“He can do just about anything”), Damiere Byrd (“He can outrun anyone in the country”) and Nick Jones (“Mr. Reliable, he’s always going to run great routes”), and that’s not to mention the tight ends who he says are “something we can hammer on this year.”
Spurrier thinks Thompson “could be the best quarterback” in the SEC.
“Dylan is going to be ready,” he said. “He’s a fifth-year senior. He and Connor Shaw came in together. Connor was not redshirted and Dylan was, so this is his opportunity, and he’s going to make the most of it.
“I think he’s a really good player and he’s going to prove it to people this year.”
He has the experience. He has the arm. And he has the weapons. While some might have hoped for a quarterback controversy at South Carolina, there’s none to be had. Thompson has done everything to earn it from his head coach.
“Anyone I know, well, their first thing is, ‘How is Coach Spurrier?’ I always say, ‘Man, this guy, he works. He wants you to be the best you can be.’ ” Thompson said. “That’s something I really love about him. If you put your time in in the weight room, in the film room, in the practice field, in the summer and in the offseason, you’re going to be rewarded. He demands perfection, but we have a good time with it, too. It’s not like some burden that hangs over you. You know what the expectation is for your work ethic. You’re either going to get there or you’re not going to play.”
Was it good to have Spurrier come out and say, "You’re the guy?"
“It’s cool,” Thompson said, “but I kind of figured it.”