Last year South Carolina—both the school and the state—was desperate for a local hero. The Gamecocks' football and basketball programs had slipped into mediocrity. With fall approaching, the football coach, who had debuted at 5-6 the previous season, also looked hopeless. To borrow from an old country song, folks felt that fate had stepped on their hearts and stomped that sucker flat.
Then, last season, the coach guided a bunch of no-names to a 10-2 record and the highest final ranking—No. 11—in the school's history. Suddenly, South Carolina fans had something to cheer about, and the stands at Williams-Brice Stadium rocked with frenzied spectators who adopted the motto, "If it ain't swayin', then we ain't playin'."
South Carolinians also found their hero in Joe Morrison, the former New York Giant halfback who pulled off rebuilding miracles at Tennessee-Chattanooga and New Mexico before arriving in Columbia. Named National Coach of the Year by the Walter Camp foundation, Morrison not only is a winner but also knows what's important—country music, a cold can of barley and stock cars. Occasionally, he takes to the pits to work for NASCAR veteran Tim Richmond. O.K., so he's just a water boy, but that's where all rookies start. Morrison also recently bought into several thoroughbred racehorses. To the locals, his only flaw is his Ohio heritage. Otherwise, the accent works, the snakeskin boots fit, and his fashionably ugly all-black outfits are as hot as a Carolina summer. In short, Morrison is just good people.
So are the talented players who man his skill positions, especially quarterback. Judging from the stats, you would never know that Mike Hold was last year's second-string signal caller. He completed 64 of 137 passes for 1,385 yards. Starter Allen Mitchell was 53 of 99 for 780 yards. Hold, who came on strong at the end of last season, won the starting nod after a strong spring practice.
Giving ground support will be Thomas Dendy and Kent Hagood, a running, catching and blocking tandem with hyperspace capability. The offensive front averages 6'4", 280 pounds, but it is inexperienced. The defensive line also is young, but the coaches have confidence in the gang-tackling abilities of the Fire Ants. "It looks like our defense and kicking game will have to carry us until our offensive line comes along," says Morrison. "Taking that a step further, our skill-position folks will have to carry the offensive in the first few games."
South Carolina's veer attack, which typically takes the ball outside and into the air, also will take pressure off the line. So will warmups with The Citadel and Appalachian State. After an open date the season begins in earnest against Michigan, Georgia and Pitt. By then Williams-Brice Stadium should really be swayin'.