COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -Tommy Beecher barely gets through a meal at a restaurant before he's interrupted by a South Carolina fan eager to talk Gamecocks football.
``Sometimes when I'm eating dinner,'' South Carolina's starting quarterback says with a smile, ``I don't want to talk about football.''
These days, almost everyone wants to talk about Beecher, who's gone from a little considered third-stringer to front and center of South Carolina's offense.
Even coach Steve Spurrier sounds ready to change his quarterback shuffling ways, hoping Beecher can stabilize an inconsistent position the last three seasons.
``It would take an awful lot of bad plays, which I don't anticipate, to get him out of there,'' Spurrier said. ``He's the guy.''
It hasn't always been that way for Beecher.
He was part of Spurrier's first recruiting class in February 2005. After a redshirt season, Beecher found himself mostly out of the picture in 2006. He watched as true freshman Chris Smelley played in South Carolina's opener, and heard the reports that maybe the most complete quarteback prospect in Gamecocks history, Stephen Garcia, was on the way for 2007.
Beecher, from Concord, N.C., thought about leaving. Instead, he decided patience was his best strategy.
``I guess it just wasn't my time,'' Beecher said of his first three seasons. ``But when the opportunity approaches, you have to be ready to step up and play.''
That opportunity finally came this past spring. Mitchell's time was complete while Garcia lost a second consecutive spring camp to suspension. Suddenly, Beecher was alongside Smelley splitting the work with the first team.
Neither was particularly impressive in last April's scrimmage that concludes spring practice. Beecher threw three interceptions to Smelley's five. A few days later, though, Spurrier tabbed Beecher No. 1.
Beecher was as surprised as everyone else. ``I didn't know what to expect,'' he said. ``I didn't know if (Spurrier) was going to wait to make a decision during the fall or in his mind, he had it made up.''
No matter how it happened, Beecher's poise and confidence have risen.
He took charge of voluntary summer drills and worked to bolster chemistry with receivers and running backs.
``He's very smart and he has all the mechanics to be a great quarterback,'' said Kenny McKinley, South Carolina's all-Southeastern Conference receiver. ``He's been there to see everything, so I know he'll come here and have a great season.''
How long Beecher's season lasts is still up for debate.
Spurrier has a well-earned reputation for pulling passers, particularly when quarterbacks can't master the national championship-winning coach's system.
He has boasted about benching Heisman Trophy winner Danny Weurffel at Florida. As Gators coach, Spurrier's quarterback carousel spun fast and furious, and rarely stopping for long on any one passer.
Spurrier relied largely on Mitchell in his South Carolina debut season in 2005, the sophomore starting 11 of 12 games and helping the team to landmark wins over Tennessee and Florida.
But Mitchell shared the starting job with Syvelle Newton in 2006, and Smelley last season.
South Carolina ended 2007 with five straight losses, perhaps leading Spurrier to choose a different path. Beecher is the beneficiary.
``I told him he's going to have every opportunity to be the quarterback the entire year, you know barring injury or whatever,'' Spurrier said.
Beecher, who's thrown just 25 passes in college, doesn't have to look far for inspiration about what could happen.
A year ago, Clemson faced uncertain prospects with new junior starter Cullen Harper at quarterback. ``I think Cullen's in the Heisman talk,'' Beecher said.
Beecher's glad he wasn't rushed into action before he was ready. He admitted feeling odd when fall camp opened last week because he hadn't been No. 1 on a depth chart since high school. The worries eased with each throw.
``I think the players will get more and more confident in my ability,'' Beecher said. ``One day, I'll prove that Coach Spurrier made a good decision.''
That would surely give South Carolina fans plenty to talk about.

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