COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier and the 12th-ranked Gamecocks continue to prepare for Auburn and try to put the tragic death of former receiver Kenny McKinley behind them.
Spurrier said his players had a more spirited session practice Wednesday, two days after learning that the school's career leader in catches and yards receiving was found dead near Denver. Authorities think McKinley committed suicide by shooting himself in the head.
"Yesterday was tough for us," said tight end Patrick DiMarco, a senior captain. "We all loved Kenny and we're going to miss him a lot. But we're going to have go out there and play this game for him."
The Gamecocks (3-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) hit the road for the first time this season to face No. 17 Auburn (3-0, 1-0) on Saturday night.
Spurrier said the players would wear a decal of McKinley's No. 11 on their helmets. The coach also said that those players who were close with McKinley would be allowed to attend his funeral in Austell, Ga., on Monday.
After Auburn, the Gamecocks are idle Oct. 2.
McKinley was among Spurrier's first South Carolina recruits and was one of the coach's all-time favorite players. McKinley played from 2005-08 and became the school's career leader with 207 receptions and 2,781 yards receiving. He also set a school record with at least one catch in 43 straight games.
Word of McKinley's death first spread among South Carolina's players and coaches at the end of Monday's practice. Spurrier was teary-eyed then as he spoke with great affection about McKinley's loss. DiMarco said that was also the general mood of the club during Tuesday's session as the Gamecocks struggled to understand what happened.
Starting right guard Terrance Campbell, one of McKinley's closest friends on the team, missed Tuesday's practice to grieve but was back on Wednesday.
"He seemed to be OK today," Spurrier said of Campbell. "Like I told, 'We all got to move on. What's happened is history.' It's time for us to move on and try and beat Auburn. That's what we got to do now."
Still, McKinley was on the minds of several Gamecocks. Sophomore receiver Alshon Jeffery recalls going out with Campbell and McKinley and enjoying the former star's sense of humor.
Receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. said McKinley will always have a place in his heart.
"I loved him. He was a great player and a great person," Spurrier Jr. said.