Gamecocks welcome in seven early enrollees
The South Carolina coaching staff understands the importance of getting players in early, allowing them to go through that first spring practice, while learning about the everyday rigors of college life as a student athlete. This year's seven early enrollees combine with last year's seven to make fourteen South Carolina players who have had the luxury of going through spring practice before their first season in the garnet and black.
Headlining the early enrollees are three four-star prep school transfers from Fork Union Military Academy who originally signed with the Gamecocks in the 2007 recruiting class. Antonio Allen, a 6-2, 200 pound safety, brings much needed depth to a position that doesn't have much behind returning starters Emanuel Cook and Darian Stewart. The Ocala, FL native brings a hard-hitting style of play to the position, but is also a guy who can cover a lot of ground in the secondary. While it remains to be seen if Allen is better suited to play free safety or strong safety, he will be given every opportunity to earn a position as a ball-hawking free safety due to the body types of Stewart and Cook. If Allen is not cut out to play that spot he certainly has the frame and the physical nature to grow into a strong safety.
In a late September interview with GamecockAnthem's Jonathan Jolley, Fork Union Head Coach John Shuman spoke highly of his versatile playmaker.
"Antonio Allen's playing safety for us. He intercepted a pass that led to our victory (over Valley Forge Military College) on Friday. He's a heady guy and breaks on the ball pretty well. He's got a couple interceptions, and he loves to hit."
Another secondary prospect joining the Gamecocks from Fork Union is cornerback Akeem Auguste. The 5-11, 180 pound cornerback is a speedy player who isn't afraid to come up and be physical. Auguste, who chose South Carolina out of high school over offers from Pittsburgh, Wake Forest, and West Virginia, will compete for immediate playing time at the cornerback spot opposite All-SEC performer Captain Munnerlyn. While Munnerlyn's job is likely safe, Auguste will battle with rising seniors Carlos Thomas and Stoney Woodson as well as a pair of second-year players in Addison Williams and Jamire Willams.
Auguste, who snatched five interceptions and returned two punts for touchdowns at Fork Union, is also an accomplished return specialist and will no doubt get a strong look by new Special Teams Coordinator Ray Rychleski. Munnerlyn would have to be considered the frontrunner to take the punt return job, but as the Gamecocks' number one corner, if someone else can match Munnerlyn's return ability the staff would likely give that player the nod.
Auguste told GamecockAnthem.com in a December interview that he's excited about arriving at USC and is anxious to show the world what he can do.
"I want to play. I want to show the world. I'm coming to win an SEC Championship. That's my goal for my first year," he said. "Basically, I lock down one side of the field. I feel like my abilities are better than anybody's out there. I've just got to go out there and show them. Hopefully I can do some returns too. If they give me a chance, I'd love to play returns."
The last of the Fork Union stars is running back Eric Baker. The Jacksonville, FL native will join rising senior Mike Davis, sophomore Brian Maddox, and junior Bobby Wallace, who redshirted last season, in a committee of running backs looking to replace standout Cory Boyd. Boyd led the South Carolina offense last season with 903 yards rushing and was also a respected receiving threat out of the backfield as he finished second on the team in receptions with 36 catches for 405 yards. While the senior Davis would have to be considered the frontrunner to take the bulk of Boyd's carries, Baker, who runs the forty yard dash in 4.42 seconds, brings a breakaway threat that the Gamecocks have previously lacked in the running back rotation.
While Coach Shuman had good things to say about all three of the Fork Union prospects he absolutely raved about Baker's athleticism.
"Eric Baker's a top flight athlete. He's a bonafide I-A talent. We're trying to get him a little more physical to attack the line of scrimmage and get his pads under him, but he has a tremendous amount of speed and elusive ability. He's been used to going outside, but we're working on using his skills in between the tackles. He's doing a good job of it. He's playing some linebacker for us too, and he flies around pretty good. Baker‘s also our punt return guy. He‘s taken two back already for scores."
Also joining the South Carolina football program Monday are four standouts from the high school ranks, including three from South Carolina and one from Florida.
Headlining the group is four-star athlete Charles Whitlock from Chester, SC. The 5-11, 175 pound star chose South Carolina over big-time offers from the likes of Florida, Oklahama, Georgia, LSU, Alabama, and Clemson among others. Ranked as the No. 9 cornerback prospect in the country according to Scout.com, the versatile playmaker is the Gamecocks' highest rated commitment, but he will start out on the offensive side of the ball in Columbia. GamecockAnthem was on hand to see Whitlock as he impressed with his raw athleticism in the State Championship game as well as the Shrine Bowl of the Carolina's. In Chester's 12-14 State Championship loss to Wilson High, Whitlock showed his versatility as he played quarterback, wide receiver, cornerback, and returned punts while also handling the kickoff duties for the Cyclones.
Whitlock showed just how special he is as a cornerback when he impressed all week in practice for Team Red at the Under Armour All America game. Whitlock showed his instincts and ability to lockdown his side of the field against fellow Red Team standouts five-star receiver Julio Jones and three-star Oklahoma commitment Josh Jarboe who increased his stock significantly during the week of practice. While there is no doubt Whitlock has the ability to contribute early somewhere, the obvious question is: Where? While Whitlock can be special at cornerback, he has an impressive skill-set on offense as well, including the ability to make defenders miss in the open field that Steve Spurrier covets in his offense. While he will start out on the offensive side of the ball, don't be surprised to see Whitlock eventually become a shutdown corner for the Gamecocks while also having a package or two with him at receiver or even quarterback on offense. Whitlock may get a shot at the punt return job as well.
Another prospect the Gamecocks recruited as an "athlete" who will end up in the secondary is three-star Greenwood standout Jay Spearman. Unlike Whitlock, Spearman will start out his USC career on the defensive side of the ball, as the former high school quarterback looks to learn the safety position. While the 6-1, 190 pound Spearman will obviously have much to learn about his new spot, he has exceptional athleticism, sporting a 4.36 forty yard dash and a 41-inch vertical leap. The importance of Spearman enrolling early cannot be overstated as it will give him at least some chance to avoid what would have been almost a sure redshirt year had the versatile star joined the Gamecocks in the summer.
While it will depend completely on his development, Spearman with his rare athleticism has the chance to one day be the ball-hawking free safety the South Carolina defense has sorely lacked since Ko Simpson's freshman year. Spearman has mentioned he could start out at cornerback, but it is GamecockAnthem's opinion Spearman is a safety all the way. Spearman, who grew up a Gamecock fan, contributed more than 1300 all-purpose yards for 10 touchdowns during his senior season.
South Carolina's first quarterback commitment of the 2008 class was Summerville, SC signal-caller Reid McCollum. Like Spearman, the 6-4, 193 pound quarterback grew up a Gamecock fan and when Spurrier came forward with an offer, McCollum committed on the spot. The big-armed QB is not as polished as some quarterbacks in the '08 class, but he does have all the physical tools to be a top-flight D-I quarterback under Spurrier's tutelage. McCollum, who is ranked as the No. 53 QB in the nation according to Scout.com, is considered an excellent leader and took John McKissick's powerhouse Summerville program to the State Championship game for the second season in a row in his senior campaign.
The first player to commit to the Gamecocks in the class of 2008 was Sunshine State linebacker Shaq Wilson. Wilson, who earned All-First Coast Defensive Player of the Year honors, may not feature ideal linebacker size at 6-0, 210 pounds, but he was one of the most productive players in the state at his position. Wilson was also arguably the best player on a First Coast HS team that featured the more highly rated Nigel Carr, Jermaine Thomas, and Avis Commack. Wilson, who drew rave reviews from every camp he attended, will get every opportunity to come in and steal a spot on a wide open two-deep at linebacker. New Defensive Coordinator and linebacker's coach Brian VanGorder will undoubtedly shake things up and give everyone a shot at earning playing time. Wilson plays with the heart and determination VanGorder loves, so it would not be a surprise at all to see him on the field as a freshman.
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