Gamecocks wrap up National Signing Day

Wednesday symbolically marked the beginning of the 2012 football season. With National Signing Day now complete, South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier and assistant coach Steve Spurrier Jr. talked about the Gamecocks' 2012 signing class, ranked a top 15 class.

National Signing Day for football in the south has become a second Christmas to many fans. Fans sit by their computers on the first Wednesday in February as letters of intent begin to roll in and the news begins to hit the message boards. Like opening Christmas presents on Christmas morning, you get mostly what you ask for; but sometimes there are a few surprises. There were no such surprises at South Carolina Wednesday morning, but that did not stop the Gamecocks from landing a top 15 class.

"We think it's an exciting group," head coach Steve Spurrier said Wednesday afternoon. "One of those survey guys, I think it was CBS, had us number 10 in the country. Most had us between 10 and 15. Somewhere around there is fine. We feel like we have a lot of good players that will come in and compete for playing time this year."

Scout has South Carolina coming in at twelfth in the nation, fourth in the SEC. Alabama (second), Florida (fifth), and LSU (seventh) were the three schools with better recruiting classes. Though Carolina was only able to land one 5-star recruit in South Carolina's Mr. Football Shaq Roland, the Gamecocks were able to land four Parade All-Americans.

"Darius English, Brendan Nosovitch, Shaq Roland and Brock Stadnik were Parade All-Americans," Spurrier said. "Brendan broke all the records in Pennsylvania. Dan Marino and Jim Kelly I think held some of them. He's the all-time leading passer in state history up there. He's only a three-star (prospect). I asked G.A. (Mangus) and he said well he didn't go to all these camps over the country to get rated by whoever does that stuff. Brendan we think is a good passer that will help us down the road."

Roland became the fourth consecutive Mr. Football in the state to sign with the Gamecocks. Stephon Gilmore was the 2008 Mr. Football, Marcus Lattimore the 2009 Mr. Football, and Jadeveon Clowney was the 2010 Mr. Football.

"To get the Mr. Football four years in a row is neat," Spurrier said. "Looking back, Stephon Gilmore being the first really helped us four years ago. We had just come off the Outback Bowl where we played like crap. I was hoping someone didn't get ahold of Stephon, but he was a mid-year guy, came in January and stuck with us. Then Marcus (Lattimore) and (Jadeveon) Cloweny and now Shaq (Roland). They've all been outstanding players and will continue to be. It's pretty neat that we've been able to do that."

Roland, who joins Kwinton Smith and Jody Fuller as the other two receivers, was the fourth best receiver in the 2011-12 recruiting class and had offers from the likes of Auburn, Alabama, Clemson, Georgia , and LSU. In the end Roland decided to stay home and enroll in Carolina, a decision that no doubt excited Spurrier.

"I got a chance to watch the first half of one of their games this year," Spurrier said. "It was against Dutch Fork. He caught one or two touchdowns the first half of that game. He'll have a chance to come in here and compete, as will the other receivers. Kwinton Smith is a big, tall kid that's very talented as well as Jody Fuller. Shaq has that burst of speed that you can't coach. He's a talented young man. We'll allow all these guys to earn their way as they go."

One of the main target areas this recruiting cycle was the offensive line and secondary. Brothers Brock and Clayton Stadnik enrolled in the spring, and will be joined by Joe Harris, Mason Zandi, and Cody Waldrop as offensive line enrollees. The Gamecocks also signed five players in the secondary. Cornerbacks Rico McWilliams, Chaz Elder, and late addition Chris Moody joins safeties T.J. Gurley and Kyle Fleetwood.

"We felt those were our biggest needs" Steve Spurrier Jr said. "Last year we signed a lot of defensive linemen, so this year we knew we wouldn't be as heavy. Offensive line is always a need. You like to sign five or six every year. Those guys seem to be in the lowest supply and highest demand, so it's hard to find five great ones, but we try our best. Defensive backs, we knew there would be a need in the secondary and special teams. Those guys are your best contributors there. Coach Ward likes guys a little bigger and taller. Coach Ward picked out a couple of guys he liked and went after them hard."

Moody, as recently as this past weekend, was a potential signee for Vanderbilt, but Carolina made a push this weekend and Moody committed to the Gamecocks.

"Coach Ward stuck with him all year long," Spurrier Jr. said. "That was a big reason we were able to recruit him. He got him in here on a visit and spent a lot of time with him. He had a great weekend and decided South Carolina was the best place for him. He sold him on the university, sold him on football and sold him on the stadium. Chris was excited to have the opportunity to become a Gamecock."

A position that oftentimes goes under the radar that Spurrier was excited about was the tight end position. Tight end is a position that is slowly becoming more of a factor in the passing game under Spurrier. Justice Cunningham caught 18 passes in 2011 for 142 yards and a touchdown, and Rrory "Buster" Anderson caught eight passes for 188 yards and three scores. With Drew Owens returning after a redshirt and the additions of Kelvin Rainey, who is already on campus, and Jerrell Adams, there will be plenty of depth at tight end for the next three-to-four seasons.

"Two players to look out for are the two tight ends," Spurrier said. "Jerell Adams, a big 6'6 kid who had a tremendous Shrine Bowl game. He caught seven or eight passes two years ago in the Shrine Bowl. Look for Jerell and Kelvin Rainey who's here now. Our last game against Nebraska, Justice (Cunningham) got his shoulder bonked a little bit and our other was Buster Anderson. Those were our two the whole year. We'll have more than just two tight ends to play this year. These guys will be ready."

Perhaps the most eye-opening surprise in this year's class is the fact that twelve of the recruits are from the state of Georgia. For years Tennessee and the Georgia and Florida schools have raided South Carolina of its top prospects. Not only has South Carolina closed down its borders with the signing of the four straight Mr. Football's, but has now begun to take some of the top talent from bordering states.

"Coach Ward did a wonderful job over there and hustled," Spurrier Jr said. "He recruited hard all year long. The last three years he's built those relationships. Georgia is always s a state that has a lot of good players. A few years ago, Georgia sent more players to the SEC than any other state, so we always know there are players in that state. We want to recruit South Carolina first as best we can."

The fact that Carolina's recent success on the field and in recruiting has coincided with facility upgrades at Williams-Brice Stadium and on campus is no coincidence. South Carolina has put millions of dollars into upgrades and it has attracted some of the best athletes in the country. That will continue to become a stronger advantage with the changes to the old Farmer's Market across from Williams-Brice, as well as the new video board that should be up by the season opener.

"I can't say enough about our facility upgrade the last few years and our record with some of the teams we've beaten in this stadium," Spurrier Jr. said. "The perception is greater. It's an impressive place to bring young men and their families. People want to be a part of this program. It's changed in that we need to be selective when we offer people. To have 16 commit last summer means the guy you offer may commit then, and that (has to be) the guy we want."

How the signees will pan out over the next four years remains to be seen, but recent history has shown that the future continues to be bright for South Carolina football.

"We have more to offer than we've ever had at South Carolina," Spurrier said. "We have a track record for winning, we have a track record for graduating our players, we play in the SEC and so forth. The facilities here now are right there with anyone in the country. We have a good football program. Our job is to keep pushing and try to get better. We had a super year last year in wins and losses. We have to try and do better. If you don't try and get better, you're going in the wrong direction. This is a year we'll try to do better than we did last year, and we'll see what happens."

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