Closing The Gap
Part 1 of 5
It's not just a matter of Holtz & Company recruiting well every season. Other SEC schools are not standing still waiting for us to catch-up. As a matter of fact, it really is a case of reloading verses rebuilding when it comes to the traditional powers such as Alabama, Tennessee, even Florida and now Georgia. These schools have been playing the talent game for decades - they know what it takes and how to do it year in and year out.
Do what you ask? Well, they know how to keep their talent coffers filled, and that is certainly one of the keys to closing the gaps. Consistently filling our roster with blue chip talent that fits our program's system is not just a one or two year mandate ... it is one to live by every single day if a program is looking for long term consistent success in the SEC. And you MUST have it at ALL positions.
Now, the Gamecocks are well on their way. A solid foundation of worthy talent has been built thanks to the efforts of Holtz and his assistant coaches over the last two recruiting seasons. The signee/enrolled Class of February 2001 was underrated. The signee/enrolled Class of February 2002 was highly rated and without a doubt the finest overall class in the history of the SC program. The signee Class of February 2003 is shaping up to be one of the finest in the entire country this season.
So how important is this upcoming class if the Gamecocks are planning to finally close the gap to within a feather of where the big boys already are in terms of talent and depth? This year's recruiting class is paramount where our future is concerned because missing a year, just one season lacking, and the previous two classes are for naught. Meaning ... we have to keep raising the bar, increasing the competition within, and plugging the holes in the current roster that might help to support those players signed in the 2001 and 2002 classes. In other words, fielding a team with no major shortfalls can only be accomplished by signing talent that plays together and stays together over a two or three or four year period. They need to overlap one another. We need players signed in this next class that will contribute to and support the efforts of the players signed in the past two classes.
That is confusing I know. So please allow me to break it down position by position. And remember, we are focusing on next year's offense in Part One, and the year after. As we go down this list we will not only cover the obvious, but the not-so-obvious as well. Those areas and postions where the need is crucial if we are to "close the gap," but while the urgency may not be glaring at some positions ... it is still there.
* Denotes projected year of graduation.
[#] Denotes running total number of scholarships to offer the coming class of prospects.
Returning from this year's squad for the 2003 season are Dondrial Pinkins (*2004), Bennett Swygert (*2006) and Aryhel Freeman (*2006). (Note: Freeman may be moved to wide receiver next season.) Solidly committed is Blake Mitchell (*2006/2007). Syvelle Newton (*2006/2007) is still on the board and considered a strong lean to USC.  Add Alabama transfer/walkon QB Scott Crouch (*2004) to the list, and obviously our quarterback needs will be filled with this next class if things go as planned.
Now remember that we are talking about "closing the gap" and plugging the holes. To do so we must approach it as the coaches are approaching it - we are attacking this position by position, and all is not as it seems.
Returning in 2003 are Kenny Irons (*2005), Daccus Turman (*2005), Thez Robinson (*2005) Regis Edgerson (*2006) and Gonzie Gray (*2004). Gray and Robinson are utility players that will contribute in many ways much as Ryan Brewer has done during his tenure. Combined, this is a young and talented group that will serve us well for at least three more seasons. Demetris Summers (*2006) is said to be a heavy lean in favor of South Carolina.  Given the four returnees and their remaining elgibility we can see why signing only one blue chip tailback is essential. But does that mean we sign only one high school tailback? We will get to that in just a moment.
Quickly, let's cover something here worth mentioning. "Closing the gap" means filling the holes and doing so with limited scholarships. Now, this year Lou & Crew will have the advantage of the largest quota to fill since their arrival. No less than 27 new players will enroll in 2003. Two will fall back onto the 2002 roster and be available for Spring Drills. Twenty-five will enroll next summer. That translates into roughly 30-32 signees within this next class, with somewhere in the neighborhood of 3-5 being placed in prep schools or junior colleges. For the purpose of this breakdown we are concerning ourselves only with those positions and prospects that we expect to be available for the 2003 season.
This is a weak link in the fence for the Gamecocks and one that has more than a few holes that need to be plugged. Scholarship players coming back for another season are Chavez Donnings (*2003), Matthew Thomas (*2004), Andrea Gause (*2004), Andre Hemphill (*2005) and Troy Williamson (*2005). Key walkon players returning are Kris Clark (*2005), Jarad Farabee (*2005) and Michael Flint (*2004). But depending upon walkons is no way to close the gap agreed? (Note: We are projecting Andre Hemphill to be moved to the secondary next season.
Leading the prospect wish list for most Gamecock fans are Noah Whiteside (*2006), Emmanual Harrell (*2006), Derrick Harper (*2006) and James Townsend (*2006) or Patrick Higgins (*2006/2007). Already committed are D'Von Hill (*2006/2007), Travis Lee (*2006/2007) and David Smith (*2006/2007).  Imagine signing all seven or eight of those blue chippers in this next class! It just might happen Gamecock fans.
A pause in the action to talk about closing the gap with the big boys in the SEC and how important it is for South Carolina to sign a knock-out group of wide receivers this season. Balance is the key to successful offenses in the SEC. It has been well documented that during the Florida and Tennessee runs of the nineties ... they could do it all on offense. Florida was known as a throwing team, but the fact of the matter is that they were sound rushing the ball as well during their dominance. And the same should be said about Tennessee. This season believe it or not, our Gamecocks have had our finest running game during Holtz's reign. But they have lacked the passing game that would have given us the balance to allow it to truly shine this past season. It is absolutely imperative that we sign a special group of run-and-catch prospects in the upcoming class if we are going to close the gap shut within the next three seasons. Missing with this next class of wide receivers would hurt us for no less than the next four years down the road. And we cannot sign just one or two wide receivers. We must sign a minimum of four game-breaking type wide outs in this next class. Prospects who possess the ability to come in and contribute right away.
Think about 1999 and how deficient we were on the offensive line. Yet in 2000 and 2001 it became our strong point. Then think about all of the talent we lost off of that 2001 offensive line. Yet in 2002 it remained our strong point. And again this season we will lose an incredible amount of talent to graduation. So where does that leave us for 2003?
Returning offensive linemen in 2003 include Travelle Wharton (*2003), Jeff Barnes (*2003), Jabari Levey (*2005), Josh Malloy (*2005), Chris Tucker (*2005), Brandon Robinson (*2006), Nashan Goddard (*2005), John Strickland (*2003), Kris Mick (*2006), Stephen Sene (*2006), Jonathan Alston (*2005), John Hall (*2006), Chris White (*2006), Chad Walker (*2004) and Nick Johnson (*2004).
Now let's hit on some key points for a moment. One, and possibly two, of these offensive linemen will probably not return next season. For the sake of political correctness I am listing all scholarship underclassmen on this year's squad. With that stated it is no secret that Nick Johnson has yet to contribute in a constructive fashion to the football team. He is a rising Junior, meaning this summer would be a good year to expect a transfer. Chad Walker is close to being in the same boat but Walker, unlike Johnson, has shown enough improvement and maturity to warrant potential. And Chris White is still iffy as far as his heredity related injury is concerned. With that in mind Coach Lou has stated on numerous occassions that he wants to always have a minimum of sixteen offensive linemen on scholarship. Fifteen are returning, of which we will in all likelihood lose two. But Dave Roberts has stated that we will likely sign four this year if we have the opportunity. So taking both of them for their word ...
Eric Young (*2006) and Jarrod Britt (*2006/2007) top the list. That leaves room for two more from a healthy list of prospects to choose from. Your guess is as good as mine, and here is the list from which to choose. (2003 Offensive Linemen Prospects) 
Still with us? You see the point is that next year we may witness a slight drop off on the offensive line, but not by much. If you noticed, there will still be plenty of senior and junior talent on the line next season, and even the sophomores are big and talented and experienced. But it is important that we take no backward steps in the trenches and that means if we want to continue to close the gap with the big boys then signing solid offensive line classes are a must each and every year. No exceptions. BUT, and this is a big BUT ... we could easily get away with signing two or three blue chip offensive linemen this year and not shooting for that fourth. Do not be surprised if we sign three and stop at three - or less. Wondering why? Go back to the list of returnees and count how many graduate in either (*2005) or (*2006).
This one will be short and sweet. Returning are Hart Turner (*2003), Brian Brownlee (*2004), Andy Boyd (*2005) and perhaps Fran Person (*2005). Now I say "perhaps" Fran Person because for the moment he has been moved from TE to OL and now to the defensive line. We still see him as a tight end and we think he might end up back at tight end before all is said and done. But for the sake of plugging holes and filling gaps let's leave him out of the equation altogether for the moment.
Our coaches, in all likelihood, unless they stumble upon some super duper blue chipper out there that we do not know about ... will not sign a tight end this year. There - that's that. And that begs the question, is there a hole that needs to be plugged at tight end on our football team? Probably not. We are probably okay there believe it or not. We have talent and ability at the position. You only need one good one and our coaches believe they have two. And the running total remains .
So now comes the variables. The unsung important aspect of Special Teams players. Think back to Dickie Harris. Or not quite as far back ... Raynard Brown. Then there was Brandon Bennett and more recently Boo Williams and Arturo Freeman. All of these guys gave us something we have not had since Holtz's arrival. They gave us a serious return threat either on kickoff ... punt returns, or both. And all of the big boys have it. You must always have someone capable of taking the ball to the house on your return teams. Ryan Brewer has been steady fielding the ball, but not a threat to score on a return. The fact of the matter is that since Brewer has been returning punts and kickoffs, along with a select few others who have had their go at the job, we have been last in the conference in punt and kickoff returns. As a matter of fact this season we are last in the country ... and it shows does it not?
We will never close the gap with the big boys as long as we are unable to mount an effective and dangerous kickoff and punt return threat.
Ideally we would want one of the wide receivers or a running back to be able to pull double-duty on the return teams. So consider the list of running backs and wide receivers already mentioned above. Or perhaps one of the defensive backs that we will mention in Part Two of our series "Closing The Gap." One thing for sure, we have to find a return specialist in this next class of prospects. For that reason you may see us sign more than one running back in this class. Focus on an athletic speed back with decent size but exceptional speed. And if this holds true, you are likely to see several running backs with those particular attributes invited for visits, or even offered, by our staff in upcoming months.
And what about a field goal and extra point man? Daniel Weaver (*2003) and Joey Bowers (*2004) return, as does Josh Brown (*2005). We should be okay there for now, and we are looking at a couple of walkon kickers of note, maybe one scholarship field goal specialist, but who knows. My favorite walkon candidate is a Chapin Eagle - but more on that later. One thing for certain is that we have been far too inconsistent kicking field goals this season. That is a problem that is going to have to be rectified if we truly intend to close the gap between our program and the big boys in the SEC.
Part One Summary: We need to sign the offensive players mentioned above in red if we wish to continue to close the gap. This is a crucial all-important year for our recruiting endeavors. Signing the right class with the right stuff supplements the talent on hand and bolsters the past two recruiting classes of 2001 and 2002. The players in red above would plug the holes on offense in a decisive manner. One more gap would be closed rather than "closing."
The remainder of this Closing The Gap series will be posted as follows:
- 17 Nov 2002 Sun, Part 1 - Talent, The Offense. (Posted)
- 20 Nov 2002 Wed, Part 2 - Talent, The Defense. (Posted)
- 25 Nov 2002 Mon, Part 3 - The Coaches and Coaching.
- 27 Nov 2002 Wed, Part 4 - Admin Leadership, The Fans & Facilities.
- 29 Nov 2002 Fri, Part 5 - Scheduling, Winning, and Building Tradition.