South Carolina upperclassmen out to prove a point
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) Elliott Fry hasn't given up on a successful final season, even if most of what he's heard and read since last year has told him he should.
The South Carolina senior kicker, who's 42 points away from becoming the school's career scoring leader, was a freshman on the last of three straight 11-2 seasons from 2011-13. He believes the Gamecocks upperclassmen are poised to take a big step forward with new coach Will Muschamp after last year's 3-9 flop.
''I think everybody on the team wants to get back to 11 and 12-win seasons,'' Fry said Friday. ''That's our expectation.''
There aren't many outside the program who share Fry's vision.
South Carolina, which contended for an SEC East title from 2010-13 and voted to win the 2014 crown, were picked dead last in the division by the media at the league's recent preseason gathering with little hope of breaking into the top half of the seven-team division.
For Fry, it's a point of pride to prove the doubters wrong.
''At the end of the day, Muschamp said it best: They're never right,'' Fry said. ''I don't remember a time they predicted it accurately.''
Fry understands the problems of the past two years.
The Gamecocks struggled to finish above .500 in 2014 - blowing three double-digit leads in the fourth quarter and losing a fourth at Auburn after entering the final period tied - needing a bowl win over Miami to go 7-6.
Then coach Steve Spurrier preached improvement, hope and a return to the top most of the next summer. But South Carolina opened just 2-4 and Spurrier stepped aside.
The reeling Gamecocks lost five of their last six under interim coach Shawn Elliott, leading to Muschamp's hire last December.
Ever since, the buzz around South Carolina has been bad.
Linebacker T.J. Holloman, another senior, says the team has used the negative talk as motivation.
''We're not going to talk about last year, we're just going to work hard,'' said Holloman, who made three starts as a redshirt freshman on the Gamecocks last 11-win team in 2013. ''We're a blue collar team. We're not the fastest, we're not the flashiest, but we're going to go out there and outwork everybody.''
Holloman and Fry didn't have to do much work Friday, entertaining grade-school children at a yearly ''Pigskin Poets'' event put on by the Richland County Public Library.
Holloman said the support he and other Gamecocks receive at these gatherings powers them into workouts.
''We're just so thankful for the loyalty,'' he said.
The Gamecocks start the first fall camp with Muschamp on Tuesday.
Holloman believes South Carolina's returning players are better than they showed last season and have been focused on getting things back on the winning track.
''When we came in here, we saw what it took to get to 11-2 and now we're trying to focus on the little things,'' he said.
Holloman said first-year strength coach Jeff Dillman ran an intense, high-energy program that the Gamecocks bought into and pushed themselves though to improve.
''That's been the big key for me and I see the difference,'' he said. ''Everyone said, `Yes, sir, let's go to work.'''
That's what Muschamp expects from the Gamecocks. He has said both that the team has to own last year's poor mark and after spring ball that South Carolina had ''good enough players to win the East.''
Fry accepts that it will take more hard work at practice and in meeting rooms to make anything like that happen. But it's possible. Just take a look at Auburn in 2013, Fry said, which came off a dismal 3-9 season and went 0-8 in the SEC.
''All that (negative talk) is just speculation,'' Fry said. ''It doesn't mean anything.''