HOOVER, Ala. - Several years ago, Steve Spurrier watched a young high school quarterback from Boiling Springs go through drills at one of South Carolina's summer camps.
He wasn't highly recruited. His name was absent from national ranking boards. But as Dylan Thompson dropped back and released passes with zip and accuracy, Spurrier saw into the future.
Even back then, Thompson's potential as South Carolina's starting quarterback was clear.
"I saw him running around and throwing, and I asked him, 'If I offered you a scholarship, would you commit now or go tell everybody you got an offer and try to go somewhere else?' " Spurrier told reporters Tuesday at SEC Media Days. "And he said, 'Coach, if you're offering me a scholarship, I'm committing right now.'
"I said, 'Well, you got an offer.'"
Spurrier was smitten from the start. Of course, Thompson didn't get his chance that quickly.
He toiled in the shadows. As Connor Shaw became a legend in the state as the Gamecocks' career leader in victories, he served as backup. Thompson admits his patience was tested. He wanted to be ready whenever his turn came. Still, the wait felt like forever. So close to becoming a starting quarterback in the SEC, one can't help but grow anxious.
"I didn't really wonder (if) so much," Thompson said. "It was kind of just, when?"
Finally, Thompson's opportunity came Tuesday.
He walked around the Wynfrey Hotel smiling, relaxed and calm. This was a day he'd long waited to see. Thompson spoke to reporters as the new face of South Carolina's football program. After four long years, he made it.
Which only made it easier to reminisce about his past.
"I think it did take a lot of patience, and it was tough," Thompson said. "That's one thing I enjoy about this position is, I just want to be real with everyone - the media, my family, friends. It was a little difficult at times, but I learned so much from being behind (Shaw). Just from watching him work and how he handled stuff.
"Then with myself, realizing that it's not going to be given. For me, it's here now. I'm just really excited for the opportunity."
There's pressure attached to Thompson's new lot in life. As Spurrier said Tuesday, Thompson needs to make up for lost time this season. He's different than most career backups, already owning signature wins at Clemson and Central Florida. But Thompson must conquer one more challenge.
Nothing compares to being a full-time starting quarterback. Away from the field, Thompson directly represents his university more than any other student on campus. On the field, all eyes are on him.
Spurrier doesn't question whether his new quarterback is ready for the responsibility. There's a reason he never opened the starting job for competition after Shaw left.
"He's prepared," Spurrier said Tuesday. "He's been there five years. He's a five-year guy who's got one year to make his mark in college football. He's got one year to do his thing. So he is really fired up about it, and he wants to take advantage. I'm going to try my best to give him every opportunity to lead our team and have as big of a year as possible."
Thompson said he's waited too long to squander his moment. His closest friends attest Thompson is on the right track.
South Carolina left guard A.J. Cann - Thompson's roommate - has seen his quarterback's quiet preparation this offseason. The job hasn't changed him, Cann said. The Gamecocks' fifth-year senior is still humble, letting his work ethic shine.
"When he works, you never know when he's out doing something because he don't put a lot of things out letting everybody know what he's doing," Cann said. "He's a very low-key guy, but I know he's working hard and being ready to go. I'm with him most of the time.
"Just listening to him talk and how confident he is, I just know he's ready to go and ready to be the quarterback."
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