Holtz in full worry mode at South Carolina

Updated: August 25, 2003, 8:44 PM ET

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- His quarterback is untested. His defense is banged up. His kicker? Don't ask.

South Carolina coach Lou Holtz starts his 32nd season just as always -- worried to death.

Holtz probably won't sleep much this week, fretting whether his Gamecocks of the Southeastern Conference can get past Louisiana-Lafayette at Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday.

"I got a lot of reasons to be scared," Holtz said Monday.

For Holtz, this is a weekly rite. No opponent is too lowly or outmatched for Holtz to treat like a Rose Bowl winner. The message sinks in with his players.

"He takes us out every day on the practice field and gets us to play like champions," quarterback Dondrial Pinkins said. "That's how you keep from taking somebody for granted."

Nothing is too irrelevant to worry about.

Holtz seized on the Ragin' Cajuns seven blocked kicks as a major concern. They can run the option, something the Gamecocks haven't practiced that much. Don't forget, Holtz said, Louisiana-Lafayette coach Rickey Bustle was the offensive coordinator at Virginia Tech for eight seasons and developed some of the finest passers in school history in Jim Druckenmiller and Michael Vick.

South Carolina athletic director Mike McGee says Holtz's style is the ultimate form of preparation. Holtz says he most likely picked up the trait in college -- he was an undersized linebacker at Kent who had to outwork others.

While coaching the Ohio State secondary in 1968, Holtz remembers his preparation for a game against SMU. He says he scouted the Mustangs earlier that season and had never seen a spread offense before.

"Boy, I was scared to death," Holtz said. He returned to Columbus and worked.

The result? Five interceptions by the Buckeyes in a 35-14 victory.

Ohio State coach Woody Hayes commended his young assistant for a good job.

"I thought, 'Man, this is going to be easy," Holtz recalled.

Instead, Holtz saw Hayes -- the two coaches are tied for eighth on the career list with 238 wins -- lose some games outside the Big Ten the Buckeyes probably should have won.

"I just think you hate to lose and you try and prepare the best you can," Holtz said.

So the worry lines for the already craggy-faced 66-year-old coach will continue this season.

"I know how fickle this game is," he says. "Couple of fumbles here, couple of blocked kicks there, couple of missed tackles, safety goes to sleep. ... With all the intangibles, all the things that can change the game, I don't care who you're playing, it's bad luck."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index