Wide Receiver: The Future Is Now

A new era is about to begin in South Carolina football, as the Gamecocks welcomed in the most highly touted wide receiver class in the history of their program on Thursday for freshman orientation. While many of these newcomers are looked upon as the future of the South Carolina offense, a few of them will be asked to make an immediate contribution this fall. Read inside for more.

Read below for GamecockAnthem's detailed analysis on each of the new freshman wide receivers:

Jason Barnes: 6'4", 200 pounds - Independence High School (Charlotte, NC)

Bio: Barnes, who helped lead Independence to their seventh consecutive 4-AA State Championship last fall, is the latest in a long line of major Division I wide receivers to come out of the Charlotte based, powerhouse football program. Barnes flew below the radar for much of his high school career while playing behind veteran receivers like current Georgia Bulldog Mohamed Massaquoi and current North Carolina Tar Heel Hakeem Nicks. However, last season was Barnes' opportunity to step into the featured receiver role in the Patriots' offense, and he responded, racking up over 1,400 yards receiving and 14 touchdowns.

On the recruiting front, Barnes chose the Gamecocks over the home state Tar Heels in an intense recruiting battle that began last summer and finally ended when Barnes committed to South Carolina Coach Fred Chatham in late November.

Scouting Report: With his combination of size, athleticism and playmaking ability, Barnes has already drawn comparisons to a young Sidney Rice. However, make no mistake about it, Barnes is his own player. At 6'4" and 200 pounds, Barnes is actually a tick faster than Rice, having recorded a 4.45 second forty yard dash the summer before his senior year. Barnes possesses soft hands, excels in jump ball situations and is not afraid to make tough catches in traffic. Coming from an advanced passing offense in high school, Barnes is already surprisingly polished in his route running and football fundamentals, but he will still need to work on getting stronger and his ability to get off the line at the SEC level.

Fun Note: Barnes was one of the top overall performers during last year's Shrine Bowl workouts, and he had a strong showing in the game itself, finishing with a team high 6 catches for 67 yards. Many scouts and analysts in attendance even believe that he consistently outperformed highly touted UNC wide receiver signee Dwight Jones throughout the week.

Soundbytes: "I work real hard on my routes. DB's don't really know which direction I'm going to go in, and my speed helps me get a burst out there. All I really need to do is work on my physical ability and get in the weight room to try and get a little bit bigger so I can get the DB's off of me on the press. Once I get that, I should be a complete receiver. I'm just going to keep working hard every day so I can be the player I want to be," said Barnes when commenting on what type of wide receiver he is.

Projection: Because of the advanced passing offense run at Independence, past receivers from that program have made a quick transition to the college level. While Barnes will need to stay focused and continue to work hard, he is the most fundamentally sound receiver of the incoming group and is expected to compete for a spot on the two deep in the Gamecock offense this fall.

Mark Barnes: 6"3", 190 pounds - Richland Northeast High School (Columbia, SC)

Mark Barnes
Bio: Considered one of the top overall safety prospects in America during the recruiting process, the versatile Barnes could start his Gamecock career at wide receiver this fall. While many believe that Barnes' future is on the defensive side of the ball, he has showed in the past that he can be a quality wide receiver. During RNE's run to the 4A State Championship game in 2005, Barnes totaled 26 catches for 545 yards and 5 touchdowns while playing significant snaps at receiver. He has also excelled at wide receiver in camp settings, impressing at the Gainesville NIKE camp and seeing a few reps on offense during the Shrine Bowl workouts.

During the recruiting process, Barnes committed to the home state Gamecocks last December over offers from major programs like Auburn, LSU, Notre Dame, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Louisville and several others.

Scouting Report: Barnes is a savvy player with good football instincts. He runs solid routes, and despite not having elite speed (4.6 range), he developed the reputation in high school for being a big play threat downfield. He also has good body control and concentration when making catches in traffic. Barnes still has a lot to learn, but he has already shown the willingness to work hard in the summer workouts. He will need to fine tune his skills under Steve Spurrier Jr's tutelage this fall and focus on becoming a more polished receiver.

Fun Note: Barnes and USC tight end signee Weslye Saunders became very good friends early in the recruiting process while rooming together on an official visit to Louisville last September. In fact, after Barnes announced his pledge to South Carolina, he played a vital role in helping the Gamecocks land the big 4-star tight end from Durham, NC.

Soundbytes: "We're ready. We just want to stay humble and do what we have to do as far as getting stronger, faster and more physical. We're trying to do big things. We want to go back to a bowl game and hopefully win a championship," replied Barnes when asked what the team's mindset is like heading into the 2007 season.

Projection: The return of Brandon Isaac and the emergence of Darian Stewart at free safety will likely allow Barnes to play wide receiver this fall, though many believe his long term future is still at safety. While Barnes will have a higher learning curve at the wide receiver position than some of the other newcomers, his athleticism and natural playmaking ability will be too good to keep off the field this year.

Michael Bowman: 5'11", 165 pounds - Anson High School (Wadesboro, NC)

Michael Bowman
Bio: Bowman was a versatile performer in the veer-based Anson offense throughout his high school career, as he saw action at running back, wing back and receiver. He was also a standout return man on special teams. As a junior, Bowman won All-Conference honors, recording over 1,200 yards rushing and 11 total touchdowns. He helped lead Anson to the best four year stretch in the program's history.

Bowman was one of the earliest commitments in USC's 2007 recruiting class, as he chose the Gamecocks over offers from Tennessee, Colorado and East Carolina last June.

Scouting Report: Bowman is a slippery, elusive player with the ball in his hands. He has excellent lean in his cuts, which allows him to avoid contact and maintain speed while slicing through opposing defenses. He has recorded multiple sub 4.4 second forty yard dash times, and his acceleration shows on the field. His biggest weakness at this point is his size and strength.

Fun Note: South Carolina Recruiting Coordinator David Reaves named Michael Bowman on Signing Day as his sleeper pick to watch out for in the 2007 class, by saying, "Michael Bowman did not get a lot of publicity, but if you watch his highlight tape and put the ball in his hands, he's making plays all over the field."

Soundbytes: "I'm very explosive. I'm quick, and I can change a game in an instant. I'm definitely an explosive player. They want me to start out at receiver. They said they'll probably play me a little bit in the slot. The coaches also asked me a little bit about returns since I did that in high school, and they're going to give me a look when I get down there," said Bowman on what all he brings to the football field.

Projection: With his combination of speed and elusiveness, Bowman could become a fixture in the Gamecock offense down the road. However, while he will be given a shot to see the field this year, it's likely he would benefit from a redshirt year to add size and strength to his frame.

Matt Clements: 6'2", 180 pounds - Barron Collier High School (Naples, FL)

Matt Clements
Bio: Clements, rated a 4-star prospect by Scout.com, was a track star in high school, setting school records in both the 400-meter and the high jump. However, football was his ticket, as he used his elite speed to rack up 50 catches for 726 yards and 6 touchdowns in his junior campaign on his way to being named second team all-state. He spent the majority of his senior season at quarterback, before switching back to receiver late in the year.

Clements committed to USC Coach Robert Gillespie in late October, choosing the Gamecocks over offers from Auburn, Ohio State, West Virginia, Clemson, Pittsburgh and multiple others.

Scouting Report: Clements, who has been timed as low as 4.32 seconds in the forty yard dash, possesses a good combination of size and speed, which makes him a dangerous target at the wide receiver position. However, it's his toughness and hard nosed play that really stands out when watching his film. He prides himself in getting downfield and blocking, doing the so called "dirty work" that not all receivers like to do.

Fun Note: Clements wore #5 in high school because his favorite football player is former Southern Cal star Reggie Bush. However with that number already being used by both Carlos Thomas and Stephen Garcia at Carolina, he will likely don the #15 jersey for the Gamecocks this fall.

Soundbytes: "When I get there in the fall, I'm just looking to bring my ‘A' game and give 110-percent at whatever it is I do. I think that I have a lot to show as far as my speed and my hands. I really want to show people that I can get up there and block too and do some of the dirty work that maybe some of their (other) receivers don't really do as well or as much. So when I get up there, I'm just going to play hard nosed football," replied Clements when asked to comment on what fans can expect to see from him in the fall.

Projection: Clements is almost the forgotten man in USC's star studded 2007 receiving class, as he has all of the physical tools to develop into a top flight wide receiver on the college level. However, with Mark Barnes now likely playing receiver this fall, Clements may have a tough time avoiding a redshirt year. He could use that time to learn the system and spend a year in USC's strength and conditioning program, which would likely prove to be a luxury in the long run.

Chris Culliver: 6'1", 190 pounds - Garner High School (Garner, NC)

Chris Culliver
Bio: Culliver is easily one of the most highly anticipated newcomers in South Carolina's consensus top ten recruiting class, as he was considered one of the fastest players in America this past recruiting year. While Culliver played mostly safety and running back in high school, he will make the transition to wide receiver in the Gamecock offense this fall, a move he showed he is capable of making when dazzling viewers with his performance in the Offense-Defense All American Game in Fort Lauderdale, FL in early January.

Culliver, who was considered by many to be one of the top safety prospects in America, committed to the Gamecocks in late January over offers from Florida, Florida State, Auburn, Alabama, Virginia Tech, Clemson and several others.

Scouting Report: Culliver has been timed as low as 4.27 seconds in the forty yard dash and brings a dimension of breakaway speed to the football field that the Gamecocks have lacked in recent years. His ability to find seams and run by and around defenders makes him dynamic with the ball in his hands. He also has displayed the ability to make defenders miss in the open field. Still very raw as a receiver, Culliver will need to focus on mastering the basics of the position once practice starts up.

Fun Note: Culliver roomed with Quintin Richardson throughout the week at the Offense-Defense All American game, developing a strong bond with Richardson and several other Gamecock commits, including Brian Maddox, Stephen Garcia, Joseph Hills, Cliff Matthews and Travian Robertson. That experience and the comfort level he built with the Gamecock pledges ultimately played a large part in his decision to turn down the Florida Gators and attend South Carolina.

Soundbytes: "I'm very dangerous with my speed. When I get open, that's going to be a problem for the guys guarding me. Also, just the different things I bring to the table. I can do punt return, kick return and play receiver. When I touch the ball, things are going to happen," said Culliver when describing what type of player he is on the football field.

Projection: Culliver has a long ways to go to master the wide receiver position, but the Gamecocks will find ways to utilize his speed and playmaking ability on offense and in the return game this fall. Steve Spurrier reportedly views Culliver as his new Jacquez Green, and he will likely get the ball in Culliver's hands in a variety of ways, including slip screens, underneath patterns, reverses and the always dangerous deep routes.

Joseph Hills: 6'4", 205 pounds - Palmetto High School (Palmetto, FL)

Bio: Hills, who emerged as one of the top athletes in the southeast last fall, played a total of six positions throughout his high school career, including wide receiver, safety, quarterback, defensive end, linebacker and tight end. In his senior season, he settled into the wide receiver role on offense, racking up over 600 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Hills committed to Coach David Reaves and the Gamecocks in late November, choosing South Carolina over offers from LSU, Georgia, Ole Miss, Louisville, Nebraska and others. A deciding factor in his choice was the ability to play wide receiver in Steve Spurrier's offense, whereas other schools were recruiting him to play on the defensive side of the ball.

Scouting Report: Hills is still very raw as a wide receiver, but he may have as much raw, untapped potential as any of the receivers in this class. At 6'4" and 205 pounds, Hills possesses a 38-inch vertical and has surprising elusiveness with the ball in his hands. He is a big target that likes to elevate over defenders, but can also get behind the defense. He has the frame to add significant muscle to his frame and keep his speed, which has generally been timed in the 4.55 second range (forty yard dash). While he has a tremendous upside, he'll need to fine tune his skills and become a more polished route runner to compete at the SEC level.

Fun Note: Hills became good friends with fellow Gamecock wide receiver signee Larry Freeman on their official visit to USC in mid-November. The two have kept in touch since then and now plan to room together at South Carolina.

Soundbytes: "I'm more of a deep threat type of guy, but I can still go across the middle and get the short yardage. I would say I'm an all around player… I need to improve on coming out of my cuts at full speed, and when I'm about to make a cut, my arms stop moving every once in a while. I still have a lot of little things I need to polish up," said Hills when describing what type of wide receiver he is.

Projection: Hills could be a star in the Gamecock offense a few years down the road, but with so many potential impact newcomers at receiver this year, he would benefit from a redshirt year in 2007 to master the finer points of the wide receiver position.

Dion Lecorn: 6'0", 210 pounds - Trinity Catholic High School (Ocala, FL)

Dion Lecorn
Bio: One of the top wide receiver prospects in the always talent rich state of Florida, Lecorn totaled 59 catches for 1,151 yards and 11 touchdowns in his junior year, helping lead Trinity Catholic to the 2B State Championship that season. Lecorn was named first team all state as a junior and leaves the high school ranks as the career leader in receiving yards at Trinity Catholic.

Lecorn and teammate Antonio Allen announced their commitment to USC in mid-January. Lecorn chose the Gamecocks over offers from LSU, Ole Miss, Central Florida and South Florida.

Scouting Report: Lecorn, who runs a 4.45 second forty yard dash, is a wide receiver in a running back's body on the football field. He is a physical receiver that thrives on yards after contact and is not afraid to make tough catches in traffic. Lecorn displays soft hands, runs crisp routes and comes from an advanced passing offense under the direction of former Spurrier disciple Kerwin Bell.

Fun Note: Although Lecorn and Allen did not publicly announce their commitment to South Carolina until January, the two silently committed to the Gamecocks on their official visit in September, remaining firm in their pledges throughout the recruiting process.

Soundbytes: "They're saying it looks pretty good, especially now that Sidney Rice has left. They said that I'm one of the receivers they want to get on the field early. I‘m ready for it. I really just want to get up there and get as much playing time as I can," replied Lecorn when asked if he thinks he can make an immediate impact at South Carolina.

Projection: Lecorn is quite possibly the most underrated player in USC's 2007 receiver class. Jason Barnes and Chris Culliver receive much of the publicity, but Lecorn is a complete receiver that is ready made to make an early impact on the college level. If he works hard and picks up the system quickly, he will likely figure into the Gamecock offense this fall.

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