Sam Montgomery: "USC opened my eyes"

Greenwood (SC) 4-star defensive end Sam Montgomery is projected by many to be the top overall prospect in the Palmetto State's Class of 2009, and the explosive lineman was in Columbia on Saturday to take in South Carolina's annual Garnet and Black Game. How did Montgomery enjoy his time at USC, and where do the Gamecocks now stand in the race for his services? Read inside to find out.

The 6'5", 240 pound Montgomery, who is rated by as the no. 6 defensive end prospect in America this recruiting year, made the short trek to South Carolina over the weekend for the Gamecocks' spring game and came away very impressed with what USC has to offer.

"It was great. I loved it," said Montgomery. "I got to view the stadium and see the fans, which is the most important part of a recruiting trip. The fans showed me a lot of love. They all knew who I was. It was a lovely place, a big place. There was just so much love there. The atmosphere of the place was so great and so beautiful. I loved it. This really does change my mind about USC."

Montgomery got to interact with several of the Carolina coaches while in Columbia and he enjoyed talking with them, but he reiterated that the highlight of the day was seeing the passion and enthusiasm from the estimated 31,125 fans in attendance at Williams-Brice Stadium.

"I talked with the coaches, and they told me that if I come to USC I'm going to have to work, and I love to hear that. That means that nothing's going to come easy and I'll have to work for my job. I told them what I could offer for them if I came to their school, and they also told me what they could offer for me. They were very honest with me, and I really like that," he said. "I talked with the coaches I'd say around 15-percent of the whole time I was there. The main trip was about the fans. The fans are such great people. They not only love their football, but they love their players. I can really respect that."

Montgomery's best friend and AAU basketball teammate Justice Cunningham committed to the Gamecocks on Saturday, and the Greenwood standout said he couldn't be happier for him.

"We had a great visit, and honestly I would have done the same thing if I was in his shoes. I applaud him for committing. South Carolina is a great place and a great school. It seems like USC fans will take care of USC people. Once you're a part of the program, you're always a part of the program. It's just a nice, honorable place to go to."

With Cunningham committing to the Gamecocks, Montgomery now has good friends on both sides of the in-state rivalry. However, he insisted that both Cunningham and Clemson commitment J.K. Jay have encouraged him to make his own decision.

"J.K. Jay and Justice both told me two great things. J.K. Jay told me, 'You're my boy regardless of where you go.' Justice took me aside from everybody and told me, 'Sam, I don't care where you go. The only thing I recommend to you is that you go somewhere in the SEC.' Those two things right there and having the trust of two great guys means a lot to me. It's sad having one on the east side and one on the west side, but in the end it's going to come down to what makes me happy and how I fit in. That's why I'm just going to take my time with this whole thing. But mad love to J.K. Jay and Roderick (McDowell) and then Justice and Chris Payne. They're all great guys."

Following his trip to South Carolina, Montgomery is not ready to name any favorites. But he acknowledged that the Gamecocks made a huge impression on him during his time in Columbia.

"I really don't have any favorites, but I can tell you this - I've been doing my homework on each one of these schools. Now that I've built up enough positives about them, I can start plucking out the negatives. To tell you the truth I was tremendously, tremendously impressed with the visit at USC. I truly was impressed. They didn't pressure me at all. They just told me what was up. We laughed and had a couple of jokes. They basically just told me everything that was going on. It's just amazing how the first time I went to a USC game there was a big difference between their fans and Clemson's fans. I noticed it. It was just a big difference. That's why I've got to keep going on visits and pointing out things I like and don't like. I think that every person should at least go to places three or four times just to get an honest and true feel."

According to Montgomery, he plans to check out a few of the North Carolina schools in the near future, but he expects to make return trips to both USC and Clemson in the coming weeks as well.

"I think I'm going to visit some North Carolina schools soon, but don't be surprised if you catch me one weekend up at Clemson or USC again."

Montgomery has remained consistent throughout the recruiting process that he plans to take his time and do his due diligence before coming to a final decision next February. The elite prospect laid out his plans for the coming months and discussed in detail what factors he will look for when ultimately deciding on his college choice.

"I think I will decide the day before Signing Day. I'm going to break it down to eight (schools). From eight I'll break it down to five. From five I'll break it down to three, then two, then one. My coach says that I need to have it down to eight by the first game. I'll have it down to eight by then," he said. "The first thing I'm looking at is academics. They have to have my major. South Carolina has a good business school. Clemson has a good business program too. I want to go to a great place with a nice community. They have to have a brotherhood on the team. They all have to be on the same page. That's very important. And I have to add on another thing - The fourth thing they have to have is great fan support. USC opened my eyes to that. I'll look at that a lot more now. I'm the type of guy that will fight for the people. That's just the type of person I am. The people that surround me, I feed off of that. I really do. When the people are behind you, you feel stronger. Those are the four things I'm looking for."

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