COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Shawn Elliott doesn’t run away from challenges.
In fact, he runs to them.
The third offensive line coach in as many years at South Carolina, Elliott had spent his entire coaching and playing career at one place -- Appalachian State.
He loved it there. It was home. He helped the Mountaineers win three straight Division I-AA national championships from 2005-2007.
But when the South Carolina offensive line job opened after Eric Wolford left to take the Youngstown State head job, Elliott knew he had to pursue it.
He grew up in nearby Camden, S.C., and he used to attend games at Williams-Brice Stadium as a child with his father, Charles, who worked the games as a South Carolina state highway patrolman.
“This was the one job that could have pulled me away from Appalachian State,” Elliott said.
And you talk about tough jobs.
The offensive line has been a sore subject really ever since Steve Spurrier arrived in Columbia in 2005. The Gamecocks gave up 37 sacks a year ago, tying for the SEC high with LSU. They also finished last in the league in rushing offense.
In addition to coaching the offensive line, Elliott is also the Gamecocks’ running game coordinator.
“We really worked hard on it this spring,” said Elliott, who’s incorporating his version of the zone-read package into the Gamecocks’ offense. “When I first got the job, we talked a lot about the run game. As an offensive line coach, I’m not real big on having a bunch of different runs. I’m a guy who likes to hang his hat on one or two or three runs and get real successful at those runs and incorporate them. We made a really good commitment to running the football this spring.”
Elliott’s approach with his offensive line, a group that’s been beaten up pretty badly the past few years, has been to be real.
“They were like a bunch of beat dogs when I got here,” Elliott said.
The main thing the Gamecocks need up front, according to Elliott, is stability. Going through three different line coaches in three years would take its toll on any offensive line.
“It’s just like a young child and the parents are running out on him or the father is running out on him,” Elliott explained. “They don’t grow up a lot of times to be the men you want them to be.
“I believe consistency is a key, as a coach and as a player, and doing the right things. They have to hear the same technique talk, whether it’s in the meeting rooms or out here on the field, and understand what I’m trying to get across to them.”
Elliott isn’t ready to settle on any combination up front at this point. Senior Jarriel King is the likely starter at left tackle and sophomore T.J. Johnson the likely starter at center.
After that, it’s murky with several different players fighting for spots. Spurrier thinks three freshmen have a chance to come in and play next season -- A.J. Cann of Bamberg, S.C., Tramell Williams of Jacksonville, Fla., and Ronald Patrick of Cocoa, Fla.
However it shakes out, how much the Gamecocks improve next season on the offensive line will go a long way toward determining if they’re going to be a legitimate contender in the East.
“I think any team that’s a good football team, it all rides on the shoulders of the offensive line. I really do,” Elliott said. “I firmly believe that. I’ve seen teams with great skill players and not be very good up front and be an average football team.
“These guys have a chip on their shoulder right now. They know they can play well. I know they can play well from what I’ve seen in practice. We’re going to do better things in the offensive line, and we’re going to work hard to get people off their back, so to speak.
“I wouldn’t call it pressure, but they want to do well … and they know people are watching.”