South Carolina QB Stephen Garcia said it was "very weird" but "exciting as well" to be back on the Jefferson High football field for the first day of Outback Bowl workouts Saturday.
Garcia was previously named the Gamecocks starter for the New Year's Day game against Iowa after making only two starts during the regular season. The redshirt freshman passed for 8,081 yards and 83 touchdowns before graduating from Jefferson in 2006.
Coach Steve Spurrier, who also is making a homecoming of sorts, having played for the 1976 Bucs and coached the USFL Bandits in the 1980s, said the decision to practice at Jefferson had little to do with Garcia.
"Our other option was USF, and we felt this would save us some time on the buses," he said, adding that the field was fine but the grass needs to be mowed.
Garcia's two starts were in Games 8 and 9 against LSU (a 24-17 loss) and Tennessee (a 27-6 victory). Sophomore Chris Smelley got the nod in nine of the other 10 games, including the final two, and went 5-4.
A chief criticism of Garcia is that he has been too quick to run the ball. Spurrier said a focus has been to try to get Garcia to "trust in the pass play, trust his protection a little more, throw the ball if at all possible."
As for how Garcia looked Saturday, Spurrier said, "Stephen threw the ball real ... pretty well, and he's shown flashes that he's starting to understand what we're trying to do throwing the ball. Whether or not he can do that in the heat of battle, we'll see."
LOCAL PLAYERS DOT GAMECOCKS ROSTER
•Fifth-year senior and starting CB Stoney Woodson was an all-county player at Middleton, where he played cornerback and receiver and was a return specialist. He leads active Gamecocks with eight career interceptions and has graduated already with a degree in hotel, restaurant and tourism management.
•Sophomore reserve C/G Seaver Brown was a second-team all-state selection at Countryside in 2005. Brown started six games at left guard for the Gamecocks in 2007 but has played in only two games this year.
•Gaither standout RB Jarvis Giles, who chose South Carolina over Tennessee earlier this month, attended Saturday's practice with his dad and two siblings. Giles, who played with Gamecocks quarterback Stephen Garcia as a freshman at Jefferson, plans to begin classes at Carolina early.
WHAT A FEAST
Iowa didn't practice Saturday, and it probably was a good thing. The Hawkeyes likely needed some recuperation time after the Outback Steakhouse team welcome dinner on Friday evening.
Iowa and South Carolina's teams devoured more than 5,500 pounds of food, including 750 pounds of steak, 750 pounds of chicken, 900 pounds of ribs, 700 pounds of bleu cheese wedge salad, 200 pounds of green beans, 950 pounds of Bloomin' Onions, 1,300 pounds of cheese cake, 85 gallons of barbeque sauce and 60 cases of soda and water.
Not making a bowl game will lead to a tough offseason for any program. A program not making a bowl game despite the fact it is bowl eligible likely makes it even tougher.
That was the scenario both Iowa and South Carolina faced last season. The Hawkeyes and Gamecocks each finished 6-6 in 2007, but were two of seven Football Bowl Subdivision bowl-eligible teams to miss out on a postseason bowl game.
Iowa bounced back with an 8-4 mark this season to earn a spot in the Outback Bowl, the program's seventh bowl appearance in the past eight seasons and fifth January bowl game in the past seven, an accomplishment Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz lauded.
"We're just awfully proud of our players. They've done a great job," Ferentz said. "We had a little dip last year. It was tough not going anywhere. That was disappointing. But over the long haul the guys have done a fantastic job, we're really proud of them."
South Carolina, meanwhile, finished 7-5 this season and is making its third bowl appearance in four seasons under Coach Steve Spurrier. This will be the Gamecocks' first January bowl game since the 2002 Outback Bowl.
Tony Fabrizio, Adam Adkins