If you have to squint a little, it’s OK.
Yes — that’s Spencer Rattler seated at a table in the Jerri and Steve Spurrier Indoor Practice Facility.
Yes — he’s wearing a South Carolina football jersey.
No — this is not a farce.
Rattler’s decision to transfer to USC is almost nine months past. He’s been on campus since spring ball. Yet, there’s something about the gaggle of reporters gathered around the golden-armed gunslinger during South Carolina’s media day on Thursday that makes the Rattler era in Columbia feel real.
Understanding the bizarre cloud of perception around the embattled former Oklahoma quarterback, though, is another challenge in itself.
“I think he’s very misunderstood by a lot of people,” Kentucky quarterback Will Levis — who worked out with Rattler at the Manning Passing Academy this summer — said at July’s SEC Media Days. “He’s a really good dude and a heck of a quarterback.”
Rattler’s winding story is well-documented and, frankly, not really worth litigating for the umpteenth time this offseason. He was a preseason Heisman Trophy contender a year ago who lost his starting job and rather unexpectedly — if we’re putting it lightly — landed at South Carolina.
That’s the short version.
The complexities in Rattler’s larger national perception are due to perceived baggage that predates last fall. His appearance on Netflix’s “QB1: Beyond the Lights” painted him in a poor light as a high school prospect after he was, among other things, suspended for violating a district code of conduct that made him ineligible for the rest of the season depicted in the show.
Gamecocks coach Shane Beamer has dismissed the Netflix version of his star quarterback as a young man growing up. Levis said he respects how Rattler has matured since his days being plastered on televisions around the country as a high-schooler.
Rattler’s teammates, new and old, at South Carolina echoed similar sentiments.
“I don’t know where they got the bad from,” receiver Antwane “Juice” Wells Jr. told The State. “He was younger and in high school. You’re growing up. I probably did that stuff in high school — especially if you’ve got a fat camera on you all the time.”
“He’s always been the number one quarterback in the country since he was like a freshman in high school, so people always assume that since you’ve got that status you’re going to be a bad guy,” said tight end Austin Stogner, who transferred to South Carolina from OU with Rattler. “He’s seriously a great guy and really down to earth. Ask anyone around here what they think of Spencer and it’s the polar opposite of what the media tries to (say).”
Rattler, asked why he thinks people have the perception they do about him, smirked Thursday and threw up his arms. Laughs erupted around him.
The moment was innocent, almost jovial. It’s part of what makes the outside thoughts on the newest Gamecock quarterback — at least on paper — so confounding.
Spend just a few minutes around Rattler, and you can see why players gravitate toward him. He’s charismatic and confident. He answers questions with thought and intrigue. He’s legitimately funny, cracking jokes about beating offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield on the golf course this summer.
There are a few clichés scattered here and there, but that’s natural when you’ve been asked the same questions for the better part of an hour, while reporters and television crews cycle around the speed-dating-style setup of South Carolina’s media day.
“You know as much as I do,” Rattler quipped of his outside perception. “I don’t know, man. I’m just me. They obviously like to judge based off the Netflix series that’s ‘reality TV’ — but that’s five years ago.
“Will (Levis) is a good guy. As long as I’ve got guys like that backing me up, these great coaches and my teammates, that’s all that matters.”
Rattler, for all intents and purposes, is under a microscope in 2022. Playmaking responsibility will fall on other pieces of South Carolina’s seemingly revitalized offense, but the junior quarterback is the engine that will make this unit go.
Questions will persist about Rattler well into the season. Good, bad or middling, his play is going to be a focal point for talking heads in the Palmetto State and nationwide.
Right now, though, Rattler is saying and doing all the right things at South Carolina.
Squint if you have to, but the star of that old Netflix show seems to have matured. A few touchdowns and an upset victory or two this fall, and Rattler will open far more eyes than he already has.