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Ten Seasons of Spurrier: Steve Spurrier's Ten Most Important Players

Players make plays. "Why is it that during recruiting season they sign all the great players, but when it comes time to play the game, we have all the great players? I don't understand that. What happens to them?" - Stephen Orr Spurrier

Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

We've counted down the wins and the losses. We've given you the quotes and the controversies.

We all have relived the greatest plays.

Behind all the wins, all the losses and all the plays, there has been one deciding factor according to Steve Spurrier.

The HBC often reminds us that players decide what happens on the field. So with that in mind, the next segment in our "Ten Seasons of Spurrier" series is a countdown of the ten most important players of the Steve Spurrier era at South Carolina.

10. Melvin Ingram

Melvin provided memories when he crossed the goal line twice in an Athens shootout in 2011. After a quiet start to his Gamecock career, Ingram's name rose when he led the team with nine sacks during the SEC East championship run in 2010. He backed it up and took it to another level in 2011, charging backfields for 13.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks on his way to becoming a consensus All-American. Ingram's impact was simple - he was a legit NFL talent on a team that helped bring a series of "firsts" to Columbia.

9. Kenny McKinley

Fans weren't sure what to think of Kenny McKinley when he arrived on campus. The consensus three-star recruit was labeled an athlete. What did that mean? If his high school days were any indication, it wasn't that he was a WR - he caught one pass during his HS career in Georgia. As McKinley worked his way on the field, his talent and smile shined. He was a consistent player during the early years of the Spurrier era, setting a Gamecock record 43 consecutive games with a reception. His name is etched all over the USC records book - first in catches, second in yards, third in touchdowns. Without McKinley on the outside, Spurrier's early years would have been much rockier. He left us too soon, but Gamecock fans will remember Kenny's personality and talent forever.

8. Eric Norwood

No matter who they are, every new coach needs help. From 2006-2009, Norwood provided leadership and stability on the defensive side of the football. He was an All-SEC talent at linebacker and with his hand in the dirt. The Gamecocks' all-time leader in tackles-for-loss and sacks, Norwood doesn't get the appreciation he deserves. His importance to the program should be viewed higher than it is.

7. Sidney Rice

Like the two players that precede him, Rice brought talent to the early years of Spurrier's time in Columbia. Rice, however, was next-level talented compared to everyone else on the field. The second-round pick's early departure was disappointing for Gamecock fans, but he left a lasting mark, bringing flash and skill to Spurrier's early offenses. He posted back-back 70-catch seasons and in 2005 caught a record 13 touchdown passes in a season. Rice ranks first in receiving touchdowns all-time, second in 100-yard receiving games, fifth in yards and eighth in catches.

6. Stephen Garcia

Garcia is the lovable but frustrating family member that always seems to find himself in some sort of trouble. To start, his commitment to South Carolina had a profound impact on the program. As a top-100 player overall and a top-10 quarterback, Garcia's decision to sign with the Gamecocks over programs like Auburn, Oklahoma and in-state Florida was a big deal. His college decision, his talent and his flair made the Gamecocks relevant in a national way. He was the quarterback during two of the biggest wins in program history and padded the stats better than most fans think - second all-time in total offense, third in passing yards, third in completions and fourth in passing touchdowns.

5. Alshon Jeffery

Perhaps the best skill-position player Spurrier has ever had in garnet and black. Spurrier and Co. kept the in-state Jeffery from national power Southern Cal and hard-chargin', trash-talkin' Lane Kiffin at Tennessee. He earned one more 100-yard receiving game than Sidney Rice in his career while tying Rice's career receiving touchdown mark. He's the only South Carolina player to ever break 3,000 career receiving yards and provided us with two jaw-drops: here and here.

4. Connor Shaw

Shaw starts off the final four players, and you could make a case for No. 1 with any of these guys. Shaw was Spurrier's best QB and the one HBC trusted most. Years from now, Spurrier will tell stories of Shaw like he does Danny Wuerffel these days. Shaw was the quarterback during the best stretch in school history. During the best time to ever be a Gamecock, Shaw was the leader in the huddle. That's something special. He won more games than anyone and was undefeated in Williams-Brice Stadium. He posted the highest career completion rating in school history and ranked fourth all-time in total offense. He gave everything he had to Steve Spurrier's program and you only reach the next level with players as willing and talented as Shaw.

3. Jadeveon Clowney

When Clowney picked up the South Carolina hat on that special Valentine's Day, he single-handedly put the Gamecocks on the national stage. Despite all the controversy, hype and hoopla, Clowney delivered. He was the best player in college football for two seasons. His sophomore season was historic and truly dominant. He holds records for sacks in a game as well as tackles for loss and forced fumbles in a season. In three years, he finished with the second-most tackles-for-loss ever and finished third in sacks. Oh, by the way, he also defined a college football season with a singular play. He showed that highly talented recruits could come to Columbia and continue their development. He gave Steve Spurrier his first No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft. If he had failed, it would have hurt South Carolina's chances of landing other star recruits. His raw talent and play-making led to relevancy and many "firsts" for the program, an importance that cannot be overstated.

2. Marcus Lattimore

Marcus Lattimore is one hell of a football player and one hell of a person. Despite two horrific injuries, he is South Carolina's all-time leader in rushing touchdowns and ranks sixth all-time in rushing yards. As a freshman, he was an important piece to a season that included the upset of No. 1 Alabama and the school's first SEC East championship. While heartbreak ensued in the years afterward, his special legacy goes beyond football. The potential he has as one of the program's spokesmen is incredible. With his personality, his work in the community and his on-field credentials, it's possible no program in the country can boast an ambassador like South Carolina can with Marcus Lattimore.

1. Stephon Gilmore

Now this may be a bit of a shock, but it's something I believe in. He's not Steve Spurrier's best player at South Carolina, but he may have had the most influence. A very important aspect of building a program is keeping the in-state talent home. As a high school recruit, Gilmore could have played at any school in the country. While Garcia's choice to play at South Carolina was significant, Gilmore's decision trumps his. He caused recruits in the state to take the Gamecocks seriously. Gilmore was the first of four consecutive South Carolina Mr. Football award winners to sign with Steve Spurrier. Three of the four are on this list. If Gilmore doesn't come to Columbia, does Lattimore still choose USC over Auburn? Does South Carolina become relevant regardless, leading to a solid commitment from Clowney? We'll never know, but Gilmore's commitment and play set all of this recent success in motion.

Honorable Mention: D.J. Swearinger, A.J. Cann, T.J. Johnson, Antonio Allen, Syvelle Newton