South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw has endured plenty of criticism from coach Steve Spurrier and figured he was in for more after the senior went skydiving earlier this month.
Shaw, who's recovering from offseason surgery on his left foot, hadn't seen Spurrier since the tandem jump and nervously approached his coach Thursday after getting called over after a workout.
"Skydiving, huh?" Spurrier said, Shaw waiting for the hammer to fall, "wouldn't mind doing that myself."
Shaw, in his best impression of the Gamecocks head ball coach, recalled Spurrier saying. "So that was a relief."
Shaw hopes to give the Gamecocks more thrills this fall at quarterback and believes he's close to 100 percent from the injuries that bothered him much of last season.
He hurt his right, throwing shoulder in the season opener against Vanderbilt and played only two quarters the following two games. Just when he felt confident that problem was behind him, Shaw sprained his left foot at the end of the Tennessee game in late October. He played through the pain in wins over Arkansas and Wofford, but sat out the regular-season ending contest at Clemson and watched backup Dylan Thompson lead the Gamecocks to a 27-17 victory.
He returned several weeks later for the Outback Bowl against Michigan, but again came out near the end as Thompson threw the game-winning touchdown pass with 11 seconds left for a 33-28 victory.
Shaw had surgery a short time later and spent the next several weeks in hard cast and walking boot.
Shaw acknowledged it was tough to go through a season spent practicing through injuries and not feeling healthy. He did what he could, though, to help the Gamecocks to a second consecutive 11-win season — a first for South Carolina.
"It was very frustrating, difficult," Shaw said. "But it was something my dad always taught me that you have to persevere through adversity because you don't know when it's going to hit you. It felt like it was hitting over and over again throughout the season with one thing after another."
The frustrations continued the first few months this year as Shaw watched teammates go through winter workouts and spring drills that he, a senior, planned to lead. Shaw's emotions improved in May when he was turned loose to work out and prepare for his final season.
"This is what I couldn't wait to do," he said.
Despite the injuries, Shaw was an effective quarterback. He threw for 1,956 yards and 17 touchdowns and rushed for 435 yards and three touchdowns to finish second on the team in that category behind Marcus Lattimore.
Shaw vows last year's problems won't change his style, a blend of running and passing that's made him 17-3 as a starter the past two seasons. However, Thompson's stellar showing in Shaw's absence — Thompson threw 10 touchdowns in more than 100 fewer attempts than Shaw — has some Gamecock fans pushing for more playing time for the junior with the big arm.
Spurrier said last month at the Southeastern Conference meetings that both Shaw and Thompson would play, something Shaw believes is best for Gamecock success. "Here's what great about it and what makes the two-quarterback thing work for us," Shaw said. "We're two very big competitors, two leaders. We don't see it as a competition. We root for who's ever on the field."
That's fine with Gamecocks quarterback coach G.A. Mangus, who's grateful to have some experienced depth to work with this fall. "Dylan got a lot of reps last fall when Connor couldn't go Sundays through Wednesdays coming off a couple of the injuries," he said. "You never know when you may have to play."
Shaw spent his down time this year immersed in Spurrier's playbook and encouraging teammates to put in the work necessary for South Carolina to surpass the unprecedented success it's had the past two years. "We've got to get over that 11-win hump," Shaw said with a grin.
He believes the Gamecocks have the personnel to make that happen. He thinks there's young, untested talent ready to rise up with Lattimore off to the San Francisco 49ers and last fall's top receiver Ace Sanders part of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
"We've always had guys step up since I've been here and I think that'll happen again," Shaw said.
He is ready to up his performance, too, and is confident he'll remain healthy this fall.
"I think now what I've been through, I'm taking advantage of stuff that I hadn't" before, he said. "I've really stepped up as a leader and I'm extremely excited about the season. I think we have good things in store for us."