Story and photos by Jeff Owens
ROCK HILL — South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp got a standing ovation when he was introduced to the York County Gamecock Club Thursday night.
Muschamp, who will enter his second season as the Gamecock head coach this year, responded with a sense of humor.
"Y'all were standing when we were 2-4, but you weren't clapping," he joked. "I read your emails … some of them were flat-out nasty."
South Carolina finished 6-7 and played in the Birmingham Bowl in Muschamp's first season, winning four of its last seven games. Despite a slow start, Muschamp thanked fans in Rock Hill for their support.
"I love the passion and I love the support and I love the positive energy," Muschamp said. "You go to all of our sporting events and it's awesome to be a Gamecock. … I just want to personally thank you for this year, because it wasn't always good and it wasn't always pretty and certainly the positive support that you guys backed us with, this is just a small gesture to say thank you. It means a lot to our players and it means a lot to our program. It's very evident to us and it's very real."
Muschamp was on the second stop of the spring Spurs Up Tour during which he will meet with six different Gamecock Clubs across South Carolina and Atlanta.
Prior to the event, Muschamp met with media and explained the importance of such events.
"It's a small gesture to say thank you to the fans," he said. "We've got the most loyal fan base in the country. That was very evident to me this year as poorly as we played at times and the positive backing we got from Gamecock fans."
Muschamp was joined by Gamecock head basketball coach Frank Martin, who also got a standing ovation after leading his team to a school-record 26 wins and to the Final Four for the first time in school history.
"I love these things," Martin said prior to the event. "Final Four or no Final Four, I love coming to these events and spending time with fans and coming to their territory. As coaches we are always asking them to come to our territory. We need to come to their backyard and thank them for who they are."
Martin told fans about his first two years at South Carolina, when there were few fans at Colonial Life Arena and it was a struggle to win games and build the program.
"Now we are ranked 13th in the country in attendance," he said. "…. They pack that place and give us their passion to help us win. … We don't overlook that and we don't ever take that granted. That's why it's so important for us to come out and say thank you. Thank you for being such great fans, thank you for being a part of helping us build that program."
Both Muschamp and Martin noted several top athletes that South Carolina has recruited and signed from the Rock Hill and York County area, including former Gamecock stars and current NFL players Stephon Gilmore and Jadeveon Clowney.
"I've been up here a bunch. A lot of great Gamecocks are from here," Muschamp said. "I've been a lot of places and this is some of the best high school football in the country. … There are a lot of really good football players up here and some outstanding coaches."
Nearly 400 fans turned out for the event, marking the second straight stop that attracted hundreds of Gamecock fans.
"We had a great event. We had a tremendous turnout that we are very proud of," said Chip Comer, president of the York County Gamecock Club. "We are glad to see all the York County people out here, and some of the Charlotte fans. It's been a while since we have had a spring meeting and it's good to see everybody out here. We appreciate the coaches so much being here and we appreciate everything they are doing at the university."
The Spurs Up Tour will continue with stops in Darlington (May 9), Greenwood (May 11), Atlanta (May 16) and Charleston (May 18).