‘I found the right place’: Spencer Rattler fired up about fresh start at South Carolina

  • College football reporter
  • Joined ESPN.com in 2007
  • Graduate of the University of Tennessee

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Looking back, Marcus Satterfield jokes that maybe he was too blunt.

As South Carolina’s oft-criticized offensive coordinator from a year ago, and with the Gamecocks desperately needing a quarterback, Satterfield didn’t sugarcoat things the first time he spoke on the phone in December with Spencer Rattler.

Yes, the same Spencer Rattler who was one of the most coveted players in the transfer portal and the same Spencer Rattler who unceremoniously went from Heisman Trophy front-runner to riding the bench last season at Oklahoma.

“You’re pissed and I’m pissed. Let’s come together and see what we can do, play pissed off,” Satterfield pointedly told Rattler.

Satterfield, who had to shuffle through four quarterbacks last season while trying to piece together an offense, was only getting started.

“Dude, people think you suck. You know what? People think I suck, too,” Satterfield told Rattler, who won 14 straight games as OU’s starter, including a Big 12 championship, before being relegated to the bench behind freshman Caleb Williams. “I’ve got a chip on my shoulder, and I can’t imagine how big the chip on your shoulder is. Let’s use that.”

As soon as Satterfield got off the phone, he immediately thought, “I hope I didn’t offend him.”

Clearly, he didn’t. Less than two weeks later, Rattler committed to South Carolina — a huge offseason win for head coach Shane Beamer and the team — and he has reveled in the challenge of helping the Gamecocks capitalize on their late-season momentum from a year ago, when they gutted out seven wins, all the while rewriting the final chapter of his own college football career.

Rattler and South Carolina will close out spring practice Saturday with the annual Garnet and Black spring game at Williams-Brice Stadium (7 p.m. ET, SEC Network+ and ESPN+).

“A lot of guys don’t get another chance, to start over where they’re really wanted,” RattIer told ESPN. “I was just happy to get away from a toxic situation and get somewhere new.

“Anywhere was going to be better, and I found the right place.”

Rattler had plenty of suitors. Arizona State, Nebraska, Ole Miss, Oregon, Pittsburgh and UCLA all were interested. He said Rebels coach Lane Kiffin flew out to his home in Arizona to meet with him. In the end, Rattler chose South Carolina without ever visiting the campus, although he did do a virtual online tour.

“I was blown away, and knowing Coach Beamer from when he was an assistant at Oklahoma and the way he rides with his players, I knew I could trust him,” Rattler said. “South Carolina had everything I was looking for, and I feel like it’s more impressive if you go to a school that’s coming up and do it there, with great teammates around you, than to go somewhere like Alabama and win games.

“You can just feel it here, this community, this city, these fans. We’re on the rise.”

The familiarity with Beamer was a big factor in Rattler’s decision, and he also loved Satterfield’s brashness.

“We definitely clicked,” Rattler said of his new offensive coordinator. “He’s laid back, the way he talks to you and everything, but he’s on tilt, a super on-tilt guy, super detailed, very aggressive with his work and how he likes to coach. I love it because I’m the same way.”

But the Gamecocks’ ace in the hole in landing Rattler might have been Austin Stogner, who also transferred to South Carolina from Oklahoma and took his visit to Columbia right after the 2021 regular season concluded.

One of Stogner’s first calls following his visit was to Rattler, who already knew he was leaving Oklahoma.

“He was like, ‘Spence, man, this place is going to be special. I’m telling you, think about it,'” Rattler said, recalling his conversation with Stogner, a former four-star recruit at tight end who was also heavily pursued in the portal and visited Ohio State and Iowa State. “So I took my time, and he was right. This is where I needed to be.”

Rattler, who has already landed an NIL deal with a local car dealership and is riding around Columbia in a garnet Chevy Silverado, is fully aware of the expectations. The South Carolina fan base is starving for a return to the national relevance enjoyed under Steve Spurrier when the Gamecocks finished in the top 10 in the final polls for three straight seasons from 2011 to 2013.

And the team is craving a difference-maker at the most important position on the field after entering last season without a single healthy quarterback who had started an SEC game. The Gamecocks’ QB to start the season was Zeb Noland, who came to campus as a graduate assistant coach, and they turned to Luke Doty in Week 3 after Noland was injured. They ended the regular season with FCS transfer Jason Brown as the starter, then played receiver-turned-quarterback Dakereon Joyner in the 38-21 win over North Carolina in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl.

“I’m proud of what every one of those guys accomplished last season,” Beamer said. “But you better have a guy at that position — high school, college, NFL, it doesn’t matter. If you don’t have a quarterback, you don’t have a chance. Having a guy like Spencer in here now who has started double-digit college games, has won a conference championship and has been through the fires is a great feeling, and then to have a guy who’s as talented as Spencer is an even better feeling.”

Indeed, Rattler is one of the highest-ranked players to ever step foot on South Carolina’s campus (he was ESPN’s No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the 2019 recruiting class) and the kind of playmaker on offense Satterfield and the Gamecocks could only dream about a year ago. They ranked 95th nationally in passing offense (201.2 yards per game) and tied for 104th in scoring offense (22.6 points per game). South Carolina (99) and Vanderbilt (88) were the only two SEC teams last season with fewer than 100 pass plays of 10 yards or longer.

“We didn’t have anybody like Spencer last year. A lot of teams don’t,” said junior tight end/H-back Jaheim Bell, who has been out this spring with an injury but will line up any number of places this fall for the Gamecocks. “He’s a smart guy who makes great decisions and puts the ball in tight spaces. We couldn’t really make those throws last year.

“You watch him out there on the field and just say, ‘We got us one.'”

THE RATTLER-OKLAHOMA breakup, as unthinkable as it might have been this time a year ago, seemed inevitable as the 2021 season progressed. Even before Rattler was benched, he faced boos from the home fans in Norman and chants of “We want Caleb” during a narrow 16-13 victory over West Virginia in late September. Even worse, he was painted in some circles as being a bad teammate.

“All that was foreign to me, and I was there with him for two years,” said Beamer, the Sooners’ assistant head coach for offense and tight ends coach from 2018 to 2020. “The Spencer I saw never flinched no matter the situation. He was also benched for a short time against Texas in 2020 and then came back out there in the second half and led us to a four-overtime win and didn’t lose a game the rest of the season.

“The Spencer I saw worked really hard and prepared to be the starter in 2019 when Jalen [Hurts] was our quarterback. So whatever he was made out to be or whatever the narrative was, I didn’t really care because I saw with my own eyes who he was.”

Stogner also scoffs at any suggestion that Rattler was somehow a problem within the team and points out that Rattler went back into the game last season against Texas to throw the 2-point conversion pass to tie the score in the Sooners’ 55-48 win. Rattler was benched just before halftime after he threw an interception and lost a fumble, both leading to Texas scores. Williams, who followed Lincoln Riley to USC, came off the bench to spearhead the improbable OU comeback against the Longhorns, then guided the Sooners to three more wins before they lost two of their last three games to miss a chance at a seventh straight Big 12 championship.

“When you look at the facts of what happened there with Spencer, it looks a little different than what some people are making it out to be,” Stogner said. “He won big games. He won a conference championship, the kind of things 95% of teams would kill for from their quarterback. It’s crazy how quickly they turned on him.

“But for anybody to say he was a bad teammate doesn’t make any sense to me. I guess he was such a bad teammate that one of his teammates there wanted to go play with him at South Carolina.”

It was on Dec. 13 that Stogner and Rattler conferenced in together on their cellphones, along with their fathers, to tell Beamer that they were committing to the Gamecocks. Beamer was watching Monday Night Football when he got the call.

Beamer’s first reaction was, “Are y’all serious?”

Realizing they were, Beamer put the phone down briefly, excused himself and ran outside to go yell.

“Then he told his son [Hunter], and he started yelling too, and then he started crying he was so excited,” Stogner said with a laugh.

There wasn’t much to laugh about for either Rattler or Stogner a year ago as the season wound down in Norman. It was clear changes were coming, although Stogner said nobody in the locker room after the Sooners’ regular-season finale, a loss to Oklahoma State, knew that Riley was bolting to USC. That news broke the following day.

“It was weird, all the LSU rumors and Coach Riley never addressed them. It became a distraction for that last game,” Stogner said. “But there was nothing about USC until we were all in the meeting. He kept it under wraps. It’s hard to believe it all happened in 12 hours like he said.

“Either way, it was time for both of us to go even if [Riley] would have stayed, and through it all, I don’t know how Spencer could have handled things any better. He was there every day trying to get better and competing in practice. It’s funny how a 21-year-old handles it a lot better than some of the fans out there on Twitter handle losses.”

Rattler said he doesn’t spend much time looking back, nor is he consumed with trying to figure out how things turned so sour so quickly at OU. He chooses his words carefully, but it’s clear that a few scars remain.

“That will be a story for later,” Rattler said when asked to explain what he calls the toxicity of last season. “I don’t want to get too in depth with it, but it was out of my control. All I can tell you is that we were undefeated at the time I was benched. We won a championship the year before and were going to win another one. I could go on and on.

“We had a great summer and then once the season started, we had a competitive first couple of games and didn’t play up to par. I just feel like we weren’t given enough time to jell together during the season. Triggers were pulled too quick, and because of that, we lost two games and didn’t win another championship.

“But, like I said, that was out of my control. I gave my all with my teammates and for the real coaches up there.”

Beamer, as well as others in Rattler’s circle, think part of the perception that Rattler could be a problem in the locker room stems from his high school days when he was featured in the Netflix series “QB1: Beyond the Lights.” In the series, it was revealed that Rattler was ineligible for part of that season because of a violation of the school district’s code of conduct for what Rattler said during one of the episodes was a “childish, dumb mistake.”

“A lot of people like to criticize me based off a reality TV show when I was teenager,” Rattler said. “I can see what they are thinking, but a lot of those people aren’t athletes and don’t really understand the competitive side, that there’s not a lot of difference between being confident and being cocky. But I was never a bad teammate, not once in my life.”

Beamer said he never talked to Riley about Rattler during his time in the transfer portal.

“I didn’t need to because I had zero reservations about bringing him into our program,” Beamer said. “Lincoln and I talk, but we didn’t talk about Spencer specifically, for one, because Lincoln had a lot going on during that time with his move to USC.”

RATTLER’S NEW TEAMMATES at South Carolina were watching closely when he arrived in February. He had already been texting with a few of them. In fact, Rattler and Bell knew each other from high school camps, and Oklahoma recruited Bell.

“We went to Five Guys to eat soon after he got here, and I kept it real,” Bell said. “I told him that we needed a quarterback who could come in here and stabilize the offense, somebody who was going to come in here and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got this, and I’ve got y’all.’ We needed that.”

Beamer, in fact, called Bell before he made the final push for both Rattler and Stogner (who will arrive in May after graduating from OU with a degree in marketing). It was a short conversation.

“Bring ’em on,” Bell told his head coach. “They’re going to make us all better.”

Redshirt junior cornerback Cam Smith and Rattler have gone at it this spring on the practice field. And, yes, there’s been some banter between the two.

“I’ve got him a couple of times, but I’m not going to lie. He’s got me a couple times, a couple of tight ones, too,” said Smith, a second-team All-SEC selection a year ago. “He doesn’t really say much unless you talk trash to him. You like that swagger. You can just see it, see him getting it back. He will make a good throw down the field, and it’s like, ‘Yes.'”

Rattler’s family is a close-knit one. His parents, Mike and Susan, still live in the Phoenix area. His sister, Olivia, attends Missouri State University and plays beach volleyball, and Rattler has had the same girlfriend, Yazmina Gonzalez, since high school. Mike and Susan have already booked their plane tickets for all the Gamecocks’ games this season.

Rattler also has had the same quarterbacks coach since he was 11. Mike Giovando has 20 Division I quarterbacks under his tutelage and said Rattler has become even more resolute since his reset at South Carolina.

“A lot of guys want to take the month of May off, but not Spencer,” Giovando said. “He will be out here in Phoenix training with us throughout the month of May, whether it’s working on his footwork, his timing on the routes they will run at South Carolina or tightening up his stroke. He’s fired up and knows what kind of audition this coming season is going to be for him in a lot of people’s eyes.”

Mike Rattler told ESPN via text message that he and his wife have elected not to do any interviews at this time, although he added, “I will tell you that we are very excited for the team and looking forward to seeing what the guys can do this season.”

So are Rattler’s teammates, especially the ones he will be throwing to, after Rattler racked up 4,595 passing yards, 40 touchdowns (to go along with 12 interceptions) and completed 70.1% of his passes at Oklahoma — and compiled a 15-2 record as a starter.

Senior receiver Josh Vann made up his mind before Rattler arrived that he was going to block out everything he’d heard about the Gamecocks’ new quarterback, good or bad.

“I was going to rely on my own eyes and ears,” Vann said.

It was about the fifth practice of spring that Vann knew it was going to be a different game with Rattler under center.

“He threw me a pass and it went through like four people,” said Vann, who led the Gamecocks with 43 catches last season. “It was an RPO (run-pass option) slant route and the safety was coming down, but [Rattler] somehow got it through everybody and the ball was right there. Having the poise to throw that ball says a lot, and having the talent to throw it says even more.”

As Beamer says, the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Rattler gets rid of the ball in a hurry and “doesn’t need a lot of room to get rid of it.”

One factor that helped sell Rattler on South Carolina was the Gamecocks’ pro-style offense. At Oklahoma, he was in the shotgun most of the time, but this spring he has been under center about 70% of the time. The Gamecocks will use the shotgun some and run some RPOs, but Rattler said he’s already learned a lot more about reading defenses than he ever did at Oklahoma.

“I’m comfortable out there and learning a lot more about football, just seeing the game differently,” Rattler said. “It’s the way the game is played at the next level.”

Satterfield has been impressed by the way Rattler has set the tone in the quarterback meeting room and the way he’s so willing to “coach” the younger guys. And Satterfield has seen few who are more diligent at taking notes than Rattler, who keeps three notebooks — one for team meetings, one for position meetings and one for his own thoughts.

“He’s the same way with everybody, and trust me, I’m watching,” Satterfield said. “We have a couple of walk-ons in our room, and it would be really easy for him to just ignore them, but he’s locked in, communicates with them, talks to them and makes them feel included. He’s been unbelievable for our whole room.”

Like any new coach or any hotshot recruit, Rattler is operating within the protective bubble of being undefeated. He’s yet to throw an interception or overthrow an open receiver on a key third-down play for the Gamecocks, and a daunting start to the 2022 season awaits with a trip to Arkansas in Week 2 and a home game against defending national champion Georgia in Week 3.

Even so, there’s a buzz around Columbia, especially given the way Beamer found a way to squeeze out seven wins in his first season, and it has only grown louder as South Carolina fans anticipate Rattler’s debut on Sept. 3 against Georgia State.

Stroll through campus, the Five Points bar district in Columbia or even other towns scattered throughout the state, from Greenville to Rock Hill to Pawleys Island, and you’re bound to see somebody wearing a “Beamer/Rattler ’22” shirt or hat.

“No, I can’t say I ever expected to be here at South Carolina, but life takes you to places you don’t expect sometimes,” Rattler said. “I just know I’m excited to see what comes next.”

He’s not the only one.

“He could have gone anywhere,” Vann said. “I think that says what everybody inside our program already knows. They call it the ‘Shane Train,’ a train that’s definitely going forward, no back steps, no backup and no brakes.”

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