Shane Beamer speaks with local media at SEC Media Days 2023
Shane Beamer speaks with local media at SEC Media Days 2023

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The first year, he was one of the new kids on the block, taking over a cratered program and knowing he probably wouldn’t get a lot of probing questions. In Year 2, his message was about handling expectations and trying to improve after a surprisingly successful first year.

As Shane Beamer made the rounds on Thursday at his third SEC Media Days, the atmosphere around him had switched. He was the cool, calm veteran strolling the halls while the swelling media contingent around him was wondering, “What’s next?”

Because frankly, South Carolina shouldn’t have done what it’s done the past two years. A shell of a team in 2021 went 7-6 — despite starting four different quarterbacks — while destroying Florida and edging Auburn.

The Gamecocks returned a lot of talent in 2022 and substantially upgraded in the portal, but a murderous schedule loomed; USC finally broke its losing streak to Kentucky, beat Texas A&M for the first time and then came the end, still as unbelievable as it was glorious.

The Gamecocks annihilated Tennessee and its College Football Playoff hopes, 63-38. A week later, USC topped Clemson in a 31-30 upset, also delivering the knockout punch to the Tigers’ CFP dreams.

Yes, USC lost to Notre Dame in the Gator Bowl to end 8-5, but those two weeks …

As much as Beamer has done in two years, those two weeks were what really drew the line. It wasn’t just the sun smiling on the Gamecocks a couple of times.

It was a steadily improving football team, now led by a coach who’s in the middle of the SEC pack by tenure, and ready to keep rising.

“That’s something we talked about as a team, that you can’t assume (the success will keep going),” Beamer said. “We’ve got 38 new players on our team that weren’t there when we played Clemson last season. We’ve shown that we can compete against the best in the country. But every year is different, and we’ve got to be better than we were last year, for sure.

“There’s great confidence within our team going into this season, but there’s also an understanding that nobody’s taking a breath and patting ourselves on the back.”

With another snazzy video from creative maestro Justin King announcing their arrival, Beamer was joined by quarterback Spencer Rattler, defensive tackle Tonka Hemingway and “the best punter in the nation” who also dabbles as a fake-punt touchdown-passing machine, Kai Kroeger.

Beamer’s third team returns a lot to like offensively, a duo at safety that could be the envy of the league and special-teams wizardry not seen since Les Miles roamed the sidelines at LSU. Every opposing coach knew that you weren’t fully in the league until The Hat pantsed you on a trick special-teams play, and Beamer’s right-hand man Pete Lembo is earning the same reputation.

There are extremely worrisome holes to fill at running back, left tackle and edge rusher. The schedule is a crucible, with only three home games in the first two months.

But in just two years, Beamer has beaten three of the five current coaches who have won a national championship (Mack Brown, Jimbo Fisher, Dabo Swinney). He gets four more chances this year (Brown, Fisher, Swinney and Kirby Smart) and the fifth, Alabama’s Nick Saban, is in the rotation next year.

“We have a demanding schedule that we get to play,” Beamer said, emphasizing the “get.” “Love where we’re at and where we’re going. People want to be a part of what we’re doing. The culture in our football program has never been stronger since I took over in 2020.”

Odds and ends

Beamer updated his roster and added some other nuggets on Thursday.

Freshman edge rusher Monteque Rhames will not be part of the program this year, which was expected but not final-stamped until Thursday. Rhames was part of a trio that were caught with an assault rifle in a dorm room in spring.

The other two involved, Anthony Rose and Cameron Upshaw, have also moved on. Rose is in the transfer portal and Upshaw is enrolled at a junior college, hoping to come back to USC in January.

Walk-on running back Dante Miller lost his appeal to the NCAA for another year of eligibility. His college career is over.

Only Jaylen Nichols, who tore his ACL in the spring game, will not be ready for the start of fall camp. Nichols is likely to miss the season. Other players coming off surgery, such as Jordan Strachan and Mo Kaba, may be slightly limited to start. “Everybody should be 100 percent by Game 1,” Beamer said.

Beamer has not talked to the new track and field staff about the use of freshman speedster Nyck Harbor. Harbor planned to double-dip under retired coach Curtis Frye and is a legitimate Olympic hopeful as a sprinter.

“He’s fast,” Beamer confirmed. He added that the track staff is excited about getting Harbor, but the coaches haven’t had a formal sit-down yet.

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