South Carolina quarterback Spencer Rattler works with kids attending the Spencer Rattler FlexWork Football Camp at Dreher High School in Columbia on Saturday, May 20, 2023.
Special To The State
Spencer Rattler’s white Mercedes E450 pulled into the parking lot at Dreher High School at 9:27 a.m. Saturday, a white ballcap and Oakley sunglasses shrouding his face. His personalized rattlesnake-esque logo that curls into an “S” dangled from a gold chain around his neck.
The throngs of kids ages 6 through 16 turned their heads from varying pockets of small toss and hollered toward the South Carolina quarterback. “Spencer! Spencer!” they shouted. The parents waiting in line to check their kids into Rattler’s local camp put on by FlexWork Sports Management still lined up around the block. Their heads, too, swiveled toward the man everyone here is waiting for.
“Four hundred-plus kids, parents out here,” Rattler told The State. “It was a great turnout. Great turnout.”
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It’s hard to ignore the rock-star quality about Rattler, now heading into his second fall at USC in a college career that’s endured plenty of ups and downs. His smile is the million-dollar kind. His arm talent is worth at least that much. (His five-star recruiting rating suggests it, anyways.)
On Saturday, kids raced around the field in No. 7 garnet-and-black jerseys with Rattler’s name emblazoned on the backs. One child wore a gray shirt with an outline of Rattler’s silhouetted face and curly hair.
Yet for what star power Rattler possesses these days — and there’s plenty of it — mornings like Saturday are also a reminder of the comfort and support South Carolina’s frontman has enjoyed since he transferred from Oklahoma for the Southeastern Conference in December 2021.
Rattler seems finally at ease.
“This is my home away from home in Columbia,” he said. “The least I could do is put on something for the kids in the summer when I got some off time and it turned out better than I could’ve ever imagined.”
Under most normal circumstances, Rattler would be off preparing for offseason pro workouts or rookie mini camp in an NFL market. Instead, he’s chasing kids around during 7-on-7 drills, lofting passes, catching tosses and posing for pictures with parents and kids alike.
Rattler’s first season at South Carolina had its share of erraticism. He threw five interceptions over his first three games against Georgia State, Arkansas and Georgia. His completion percentage surpassed 70% just once against Power Five competition over the first 10 weeks of the season.
And then there were the flashes that have many of those scattered around the field Saturday so excited for the 2023 campaign.
Rattler torched then-No. 5 Tennessee for 438 yards and six touchdowns, while completing 30 of his 37 passes. He was named Walter Camp National Offensive Player of the Week and the co-SEC Offensive Player of the Week for his efforts. The 31-30 victory over Clemson in Death Valley followed one week later.
Tyler Gaston was part of the crowd that stormed the field at Williams-Brice Stadium the night of the Tennessee win. Slipping his iPhone protected by a purple case out of his pocket, he proved his attendance with a picture of him and Rattler together in the mess of fans that had climbed over the hedges to celebrate in the aftermath of the victory.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Gaston said of bringing his cousin and a friend down from Chester on Saturday for the camp. “I can’t wait to show (Rattler) that picture rushing the field and hitting him on the shoulder pads.”
Saturday’s camp served as a reminder of the overwhelming optimism Rattler’s final two regular-season games inspired among Gamecock fans. Kids screamed out his name, hoping he’d toss them the ball during the eight-minute seven-on-seven station he manned. A handful of campers raced to the fences to snag a hat or football from their parents to have Rattler sign in between rotations.
It’s also a clear look into the modern iteration of college football.
The NCAA ruled in 2021 players that could benefit off their name, image and likeness. And while this, at times, has reportedly evolved into using potential business deals to lure recruits to certain schools, Rattler’s camp felt like it was how NIL was intended to operate.
Campers paid anywhere from $145 and up for varying packages on Saturday. The base level included a group photo with Rattler, a limited edition camp T-shirt and a handful of items from the local sponsors that lined up in tents along the side of the field. Those who paid more received anything from autographed and solo photos with the star signal-caller to getting to run through one-on-one reps in front of the whole camp with Rattler as their personal quarterback.
FlexWorks — which puts on camps nationwide, including one just last week with Georgia’s Brock Vandagriff and Brock Bowers — handles the logistics of staffing, field booking, etc. Rattler functionally earns an appearance fee to brush shoulders with local kids, while throwing a few footballs in the process.
“I wish we could’ve done something like this in school,” quipped ex-Gamecocks quarterback Corey Jenkins, now the head coach at Dreher High and whose two sons participated in Rattler’s camp. “This is something right up my alley. Instead of working over there at concessions like I’m supposed to be, I’m out here trying to help and do stuff out here because I enjoy being around kids, too.”
As Saturday’s camp concluded, Rattler dipped out the back gate, accompanied by a local police officer, his agent and a member of the FlexWorks team. Standing alongside his Mercedes for a quick media interview, campers and fans lurked for one last quick picture until, literally, Rattler closed his driver’s side door.
Around Columbia, he plays a role that feels equal parts Paul McCartney and Peyton Manning.
A few more wins in 2023, and Rattler might never have to buy another meal in the Palmetto State again..