Recruiting Is Heating Up For Gamecocks

With South Carolina's regular season concluding this past weekend with a 31-28 win over Clemson, the Gamecocks, who finished the 2006 season with a 7-5 record, are now awaiting to learn their bowl destination. There is no rest for the Gamecock coaches, however, as the USC staff has hit the recruiting trail with full force during the down time, and their efforts are paying immediate dividends.

The Gamecocks received commitments from two of their top wide receiver targets on Wednesday, as Joseph Hills and Jason Barnes each pledged their intentions to sign with the Gamecocks. Hills is an athletic 6'4, 210 pound receiver, who chose the Gamecocks over offers from Georgia, LSU, Louisville, and Nebraska among others. The versatile Hills, who was recruited by some schools to play on the defensive side of the ball, is widely considered to be one of the top athletes in the Sunshine State this year, and with his combination of size and playmaking ability, he will be a good fit for Steve Spurrier's offense at South Carolina.

Barnes is a big time player in his own right. The 6'4, 195 pound receiver plays for the heralded Independence High School (Charlotte, NC) program, and he has had a monstrous senior season, helping lead his team to an unblemished 14-0 record thus far. Barnes initially impressed the USC coaches at a summer camp earlier this year, and though he is not as polished at this stage in his career, he has drawn early comparisons to current Gamecock wide receiver Sidney Rice. Barnes, who runs a 4.5 second forty yard dash, chose the Gamecocks over an offer from the home-state North Carolina Tar Heels, and he will provide another big wide receiver target for the Gamecock offense in the coming years.

With the addition of Hills and Barnes, the Gamecocks now have fourteen commitments for the 2007 recruiting class, with seven of them coming over the past month. However, the recruiting process is just beginning to heat up. USC is gearing up to host one of their biggest recruiting weekends of the year this weekend, and they will welcome in a wealth of high profile visitors. The list of official visitors is highlighted by Richland Northeast (Columbia, SC) 5-star safety/wide receiver Mark Barnes, who currently favors the Gamecocks over Louisville, and is expected to announce his commitment during the week of the Shrine Bowl.

Riverside (Durham, NC) 4-star tight end Weslye Saunders will make the short drive down to Columbia this weekend for an official visit as well. Saunders, who is also a star basketball player, claims offers from South Carolina, Penn State, Florida State, Louisville, North Carolina, NC State, and Wake Forest, but the Gamecocks will have their opportunity to impress him this weekend. Saunders is being recruited by some as a defensive tackle, but USC likes his size and athleticism at the tight end position.

The Gamecocks are still looking to secure a second tailback in this class to complement 4-star standout Brian Maddox, who committed to USC back in June. The top target right now appears to be Edward H. White (Jacksonville, FL) 3-star running back Eric Baker. The speedy Baker, who runs a blazing 4.4 second forty yard dash, will be visiting USC this weekend, and he currently favors the Gamecocks over Florida, Clemson, and West Virginia. A commitment is not expected, as Baker has gone on record stating that he does not plan to commit until close to signing day, but if his visit goes well, it is not out of the realm of possibility.

One player who could potentially commit in the near future is Richmond (Rockingham, NC) stud linebacker Melvin Ingram. The hard-hitting Ingram, who will make an official visit to USC this weekend, currently claims a top four of South Carolina, North Carolina, NC State, and Alabama. While Ingram has not gone on record naming a leader, he recently stated that a decision could come within the next month. The coaching situations at UNC, NC State, and Alabama only help USC's chances with Ingram.

Defensive tackle is a big need for the Gamecocks in this recruiting class, and they will play host to one of their top targets this weekend in Blanche Ely (Pompano Beach, FL) 3-star prospect Dontee Nicholls. The 6'2, 295 pound Nicholls has liked the Gamecocks throughout the recruiting process, but he enters this visit claiming no favorites. He is also planning on taking visits to Georgia, West Virginia, Rutgers, and possibly Miami.

One prospect that may not be on the radar of many Gamecock fans is Carver (Winston Salem, NC) safety/linebacker Alonzo Winfield. That is because the 3-star Winfield committed to Tennessee back in June, but USC coach Fred Chatham, who specializes in recruiting the Tar Heel State, has done a good job of maintaining contact with the hard-hitting Winfield. The Gamecocks will have their opportunity to make up ground this weekend, as Winfield is expected to make an official visit to USC.

Another defensive back prospect expected to visit this weekend is Immokalee (FL) shutdown cornerback Aaron Henry. The 3-star rated Henry, who measures in at a solid 6'0 and 180 pounds, claims offers from South Carolina, Tennessee, Ole Miss, Nebraska, Iowa, Pittsburgh, and Wisconsin, but he has maintained an open stance throughout the recruiting process. The Gamecocks have a need for quality cornerbacks in this class, and Henry would be a great pick up, as he possesses a unique combination of size, speed, and physical play.

As is the case with most big recruiting weekends, the Gamecocks will welcome in several of their current commitments on official visits to serve as a positive influence with the other prospects on hand. Spring Valley (Columbia, SC) 4-star offensive lineman Quintin Richardson and T.L. Hanna (Anderson, SC) 4-star running back Brian Maddox, who are two of USC's original ambassadors in this recruiting class, will both make their official visits to South Carolina this weekend. They will be joined by Scotland Country (Laurinburg, NC) 4-star defensive end Travian Robertson and Anson (Wadesboro, NC) 3-star wide receiver Michael Bowman, who both committed to the Gamecocks over the summer.

The excitement does not stop with this weekend, however. Jefferson (Tampa, FL) 4-star quarterback Stephen Garcia, who is considered to be one of the top quarterback prospects in America this year, has set a press conference next Wednesday to announce his college choice. Garcia has favored South Carolina for much of the recruiting process, and he is expected to announce his decision to play for Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks next Wednesday.

Georgia Military teammates Jarius Wynn and Corvey Irvin are also expected to make a decision on their college choice in the near future. The pair of standout JUCO defensive linemen are deciding between Georgia and South Carolina, and they have made it known that they would like to play together at whichever school they choose. The 4-star Wynn is considered to be one of, if not the top JUCO defensive lineman in the country this year, while the 3-star Irvin could come in and contribute at either of his two finalists. GMC will play their season-ending bowl game this weekend, and Wynn and Irvin will look to make a decision shortly after that.

Trinity Catholic (Ocala, FL) teammates Dion Lecorn and Antonio Allen are another duo that are expected to announce their commitments at any time. They have favored the Gamecocks for several months now, and their commitments could come in the near future. Lecorn, who is rated a 4-star prospect, is considered one of the top wide receiver prospects in the nation, while the 3-star Allen is a ball-hawking safety prospect that plays with a noticeable mean streak.

The Gamecocks will play host to a few more visitors next weekend, including a pair of 4-star cornerbacks in Chaminade's (Hollywood, FL) Akeem Auguste and Norman's (Norman, OK) Ryan Broyles. USC has been among Auguste's favorites for much of the recruiting process, and he now claims a top four of South Carolina, Florida State, Wake Forest, and West Virginia. Broyles enters the visit claiming no favorites, but he is thought to be waiting on an offer from the home-state Oklahoma Sooners.

Welcome to the madness that is recruiting season. The Gamecocks are still in the mix with several more elite prospects, and if things go as expected, they are on track to sign one of the best classes in the history of South Carolina football. There will undoubtedly be several more surprises pop up between now and signing day, so stay tuned to for all the latest news and updates on South Carolina recruiting.

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