Locked in a battle to be the first-team quarterback with senior Neil Caudle and sophomore Barrett Trotter, Newton shone in the spring, and coach Gene Chizik named Newton his starter a week after the spring game. "Spring practice was huge for Cam," Chizik says of the player who would win the Heisman Trophy and lead Auburn to the BCS title, the school's first national championship since 1957. "That's when he won the players and the coaches over. He couldn't have done much better. That's really where our journey as a team coming together started."
It's the day before the start of spring ball at South Carolina, and well-traveled coach Steve Spurrier is sitting in his office in Columbia, telling one of his favorite spring-practice stories. "In 1989, which was the year before I [became the coach at] Florida, they had a really intense spring game," Spurrier recalls. "They called it the Steak and Beans Game because the winning team got to eat steak for dinner and the losers had to eat beans. It meant so much to them that Emmitt Smith carried the ball 31 times in the game. Thirty-one times!"
Spurrier pauses. Then, laughing, he adds, "I promise you Marcus Lattimore or any of our other running backs won't be carrying the ball 31 times in our spring game. You don't want to get anyone hurt, and I mean, come on, it's just practice. But I'll tell you what: I sure like our team. We've got a chance to be pretty dang good."
This, more than anything, is the true beauty of football in the spring: No matter what happens over the next few weeks, all teams will emerge believing there is promise in the coming fall, all of them dreaming big, all believing they got a chance to be pretty dang good.