COLUMBIA -- On Thursday afternoon at USC's practice field, coach Steve Spurrier stood surrounded by the media and offered up this proclamation about freshman receiver and former Chester standout C.C. Whitlock:
"C.C.'s got a chance to help us. And we're hoping he's going to be Kenny McKinley next year."
A few minutes later, reporters hustled over to Steve Spurrier Jr., the team's receivers coach, and asked about his father's comment. The son smiled.
"Well, I'm still worried about this year," Spurrier Jr. said. "I'll worry about next year's Kenny McKinley next year."
In truth, neither Spurrier is much worried about McKinley, the Gamecocks' No. 1 receiver who likely will set program records this season. The question is the same as it was this time last year: Who will help him?
Plenty of hopes rest on Whitlock because of his pure talent, and his resemblance to McKinley. Both are on the shorter side but do a good job catching and running with the ball. But McKinley wasn't a go-to receiver until his junior year, so it may be asking too much for Whitlock to emerge right away.
He may not have to. In fact, the answer at No. 2 receiver might be everybody.
"I think it'll be a committee," said junior Moe Brown, who has 22 career catches. "This year you're going to have about four or five stout receivers, and we're going to tear up some things."
Spurrier Jr. agrees that the depth is good. This is his fourth year coaching the Gamecocks receivers, and he said this is a "better group than I've had here in the past -- other than Sidney Rice." Seven wideouts are candidates to play in the opener.
This is a byproduct of last year's recruiting class, when the staff focused heavily on athletes who could play receiver. Even after moving several to the secondary, that still leaves a big group of second-year guys: Dion LeCorn, Jason Barnes, Joe Hills and Matt Clements. Then you have the Browns -- Moe and Freddie are both juniors -- and Whitlock.
Then again, McKinley's biggest help might not even be a receiver. Tight ends Jared Cook and Weslye Saunders are coming off strong years, and for most of last season, they were more favored targets than anyone not named McKinley.
Ideally, the Gamecocks would still find a breakout star or two from among the receivers. LeCorn seems the natural candidate after finishing last season as the No. 2 receiver, hauling in 13 catches for 174 yards and two touchdowns in the final two games.
But the coaches haven't quite let LeCorn carry over that honor. Moe Brown has drawn raves and has a chance to start the opener. Freddie Brown is the possession guy, according to Spurrier Jr., who also put Hills, Barnes and LeCorn in the mix.
The assistant coach didn't list Whitlock, though he later praised his ability.
"We've gotta keep coaching him, see where he's at," Spurrier Jr. said. "He's got some talent. He's got something that most of them don't have."
It helps Whitlock that he was around for spring practice after enrolling early at USC. He admits that he "didn't really know what was going on" in the spring game but thinks he has a better understanding of the offense now.
This month, Whitlock missed some practices attending to personal business in Chester. When in Columbia, he said he's been working closely with McKinley.
"We talk every day," Whitlock said. "He told me the coaches were talking about me all the time. He told me if I keep my head straight, next year I'll probably have the starting spot."
In the meantime, there's the little matter of this season. The Gamecocks appear to be in the same position they were at this time last year -- a star in McKinley and waiting for others to emerge.