Aiken visits USC, discusses recruitment

Bamberg Ehrhardt High School has developed the reputation for perennially producing some of the top football talent in the Palmetto State, and the Red Raiders will once again boast an elite prospect in the 2012 recruiting class in defensive lineman Martin Aiken. Read inside as the athletic 6-3, 240 pound lineman discusses his recruitment, including his trip to USC's junior day over the weekend.

Martin Aiken is keeping busy these days. When the outgoing junior is not playing basketball or running track, he is enjoying the process of being one of the most highly sought after football prospects in the southeast. Aiken already has fifteen scholarship offers, including tenders from major programs like South Carolina, Clemson, Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia Tech, North Carolina, NC State, and others.

Aiken has exploded onto the recruiting scene in recent months, and his offer list seemingly continues to grow each week. The versatile lineman, who could play defensive end or defensive tackle on the next level, projects to be one of the top overall prospects in South Carolina this year, but he isn't overwhelmed with the attention. No, he has already seen this process unfold before. When he was younger, Aiken watched former Bamberg standouts Daquan Bowers and A.J. Cann garner tons of national publicity and recruiting attention. Now, after years of hard work to get to this point, he is enjoying his opportunity to go through the recruiting process.

"It makes me feel like my hard work is paying off and like my coaches' hard work is paying off," Aiken said. "The guys that went ahead of me, I used to ask them, ‘What's it like to be recruited so heavily?' They said it just makes you feel like all of your hard work is paying off. I didn't understand it then, but now I understand what they were saying now that I'm experiencing it. I've been working really hard."

The future four-star prospect has already visited home-state South Carolina, where friend and former teammate Cann attends, on several occasions, but he made a return trip to Columbia on Saturday to take in the Gamecocks' junior day event. Aiken said that he enjoyed his time at USC, and he especially came away impressed with what he learned about Coach Craig Fitzgerald's strength and conditioning program.

"It was pretty good. We broke up into position meetings, and we watched little clips of the defense and our position. They talked about the plays being run and stuff. Then we went to the weight room, and they told us how they work out their players. Then we went upstairs and watched the team highlights, and after that we went to the baseball game. It was good," he said. "My favorite part had to be learning more about their strength program. I knew that they were big on the strength program because A.J. goes there, and he got real strong after he got there. But I didn't know they were quite that serious about it. It's crazy how serious those guys take their weight room. It was impressive."

South Carolina has positioned itself fairly well with Aiken early on, thanks in large part to the recruiting efforts of Coach Shane Beamer. However, Beamer recently left USC to coach with his dad, Frank Beamer, at Virginia Tech. According to Aiken, that didn't hurt the Gamecocks too much in his eyes, and he is already building a good relationship with his new Carolina recruiter, Jay Graham.

"It didn't hurt them too bad," Aiken said of Beamer's departure from South Carolina. "It was just a shock more than anything. I went up there on a Wednesday and walked around with him, and then a few days after that I heard he'd left. It was pretty surprising. "Coach Graham is my new recruiter, and he's a pretty good guy. He's straight forward about everything, and he just came right out and told me, ‘You're a guy I'm going to recruit hard.' He told me straight up he's going to do that. My (high school) coach told me that he asks about me all the time."

Aiken also recently attended a junior day at Georgia Tech, and he plans to visit Clemson's junior day on March 4th. A few weeks later (March 26th) he will make an unofficial visit to Auburn to check out The Plains.

With so many schools pursuing him, Aiken has heeded the advice of his two former teammates, who went through a similar experience in the recruiting process.

"I've heard the same thing from A.J. and Daquan. They both told me, ‘Whatever you do, just make the decision that's best for you. Don't let anybody make the decision for you.'"

The premier defensive lineman has an idea of when he would like to make a final decision on his college choice, and he knows what factors he will be looking for in a school when it comes time to make a commitment.

"I'm going to try to make the decision this summer before the season starts, like right before the season starts. But if I don't make it before the season starts, I'll wait until after the season because I'm not going to make it during the season," he said. "I'm going to look at everything academically. I want to make sure that they're strict on grades. After that, I'm going to look at the area the school is in because that's the place I'm going to be. Then after that, I'll look into the football part of things, like how I'll fit into the defensive schemes and what I can see myself doing."

Aiken, who totaled over 100 tackles and 13 sacks in his junior season, claims no favorites at this early stage in his recruitment.

"I'm trying to keep an open mind right now, so when I make my decision I'll know I'm making the right decision."

Lastly, the talented Bamberg product discussed his goal of leading his team to the state championship in his upcoming senior season.

"We made it to the state championship this year, but we lost. Things kind of went bad for us early in the game. This year, one of the main goals is to make it back there. It's my senior year, so it's my last chance at it. That's our goal. I'm going to do all that I can to make sure everybody on the team stays focused on that goal of winning each game that we have to play, one at a time, so we can make it to that big game and then win it. Last year we were so focused on making it there that we never stopped to tell ourselves that we were gonna make it there and win. That's what hurt us. This year, we're going to focus on making it and winning the championship."

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