Closing The Gap
Part 2 of 5
Who are the big boys in the SEC? Florida? Tennessee? Alabama? Of course they are. Those are the big three. The programs that year in and year out are capable of beating anyone in the country on any given Saturday. They are also the three football programs in the SEC that have won Mythical National Championships in the past decade.
So what is it that consistently gives them "Big Boy" status?
Defense. All three of those programs consistently field talented and deep defenses. Especially during their MNC seasons.
Now, our defenses since Holtz's arrival have been good. Probably the best in recent memory. Certainly since joining the SEC. But they have not been "Big Boy good." Not by a long shot.
To be "big boy good" you have to have the players and the depth at all positions. Not necessarily EVERY single position player on the two deep depth chart ... but you have to have exceptional talent at all positions and at least one superstar at every position.
To reiterate the point of our discussion in Part 1 of this series ... we must plug the holes with this next class if we wish to bolster the last two classes' talent and field a team three classes deep within the next two years.
See legend in part one for (*) and [#].
One thing we have all learned as fans, is that you DO NOT bring in true freshmen cornerbacks, redshirted freshmen cornerbacks, or first year junior college transfer cornerbacks and expect them to contribute in a positive fashion against SEC competition. It happens so rarely that it is not worth speculating on signing a prospect that is good enough to get the job done in his first year in the conference. No other position on the field, other than perhaps QB, requires more experience. With that understood we recognize the urgency of signing a serious class of physical cover-corners in this next class.
Returning are Teddy Crawford (*2003), Terrell Davis (*2006), Deandre' Eiland (*2003), Andre Hemphill (*2005), Rachiem Monroe (*2004), Taqiy Muhammad (*2003), Corey Peoples (*2004), Dunta Robinson (*2003), Isaac Stackhouse (*2003) and Tremaine Tyler (*2006).
The balance is way out of kilter in our returnees next season. What started as a major weekness in this year's secondary has turned into a gradually improving position for the Gamecocks and should prove to be above average next season. But the problems lies in the fact that we graduate five (*2003) CBs after next season. And note Deandre' Eiland and Andre Hemphill - two players who will be fairly new to the position next year even though Eiland will be a senior.
We will be in serious trouble in 2004 and 2005 if we fail in our efforts to sign a serious group of DBs in this year's class ... and that is no way to catch up to the big boys and close the gap. Understand that failing to sign a couple of talented cornerback prospects this year translates into four graduating seniors after next season and unless Andrea Gause and Taqiy Muhammad are moved back to cornerback, there will be no senior or junior corners on the 2004 squad.
Already committed are Fred Bennett (*2006) and Ty Erving (*2007). On the top of our wish list, and this is the good part, are talented JuCos Brian Staley (*2004) and Ced Williams (*2004). We have a shot at both of those prospects, even Staley, provided nothing goes askew with Staley and his connection to Clemson. Then add Adrian Griffin  to the list - and thanks to Blake Mitchell and Patrick Higgins again we have a very good shot at Griffin ... and we might just be able to pull off one of the finest CB recruiting coups in the country this year. Those are four of the finest in the nation at their levels right now. We need to sign at least three of them so let's keep our fingers crossed. Why cross our fingers you ask? Because Staley is anything but a done deal I don't care how committed he says he is. Griffin has shown signs of being flighty and at times even wishy washy. Williams is actually a long shot. And Higgins has a long way to go before actually qualifying to make the roster as either a WR or CB for the moment. As badly as we need a quality class at the corner position - we are going to have to hope this all falls into place on signing day.
This is an area where we have recruited adequately in the past - but not in the past two classes. Returning are Jamacia Jackson (*2004), Jermaine Harris (*2004) and Rodriques Wilson (*2004). Our saving grace may be that the Spur/Safety position is not as critical experience wise as it is at cornerback - not to mention the fact that the word I am getting is that the Spur position may be phased out as a primary position. And we may see Andre Hemphill moved to SS if our wide receiver class turns out to be as strong as I now believe it will be come signing day.
Already committed are Tremaine Billie (*2007), Tray Rogers (*2006) and Xavier Byrd (*2004). Our wish list at Spur/Safety is difficult to put a finger on, but we know for a fact that Cody Wells is number one on our remaining board.  He is a head hunter that can fly and he will absolutely tear your head off according to the people that I have spoken with about Wells. Combining Wells with Billie, Rogers and Byrd would round out a nice class of Spurs/Safeties for future seasons. But here's the catch to all of this. There's always a catch during recruiting season. I was told point blank by one of our coaches that Billie told him he will not sign at the same school as Demetris Summers. Furthermore, Billie wants to be a tailback and we want him as a safety ... I think. Either way if Summers signs with us like I believe he will, then Billie is out. And Byrd I am being told is more likely to grow into the linebacker position ... provided he qualifies. There are questions about that at the moment from what I understand. Tricky huh? We'll have to wait and see but if Billie were to decommit tomorrow it would not surprise me.
One thing you can always count on from Lou Holtz is that he is going to load his teams with good linebackers. Most old timey coaches, and all currently successful coaches, believe that you can never have too many outstanding linebackers on your football team. Linebackers are prone to injury so depth is always a concern. And they are necessary ingredients, in numbers, for any successful kick-off coverage unit.
We have one of the better linebacking corps in the conference already in house. And if we sign the players I believe we are going to sign in this coming recruiting class ... we may have one of the finest, if not THE finest linebacking corp in the country.
Returning are Jeremiah Garrison (*2003), Ricardo Hurley (*2005), Orus Lambert (*2005), Lance Laury (*2005), Darel Slay (*2003) and Travis Weston (*2005). Slay could be moved to DE, but until we confirm this with one of our coaches we'll leave him at linebacker.
Even without Slay that is a very good group of returning/talented linebackers!
But this is where we should all be getting giddy. I mean I have a hard time typing this without wanting to jump up and shout Hallelujah!
Two years ago while working within the old Rivals network I was publicly outspoken with every recruiting guru in the system that we were having the finest year ever in the history of this state in terms of linebacker talent. In that class were Rocky McIntosh, now starting with Miami - and Lawrence and Coley. Lawrence is rated across the board as the number one JuCo linebacker in the country right now and he is devastating - hard to believe he was actually more of a fullback prospect coming out of high school. But Coley is my favorite. Trust me ... Coley is going to be a star.
On our wish list are Des Williams, a former teammate of Kenny Irons, and Ryan Brown (*2006) among others. Williams will give us a visit and we are without a doubt number two on his list ... but he'll end up at Georgia IMHO. Brown is a major talent out of the same mold as Ricardo Hurley but faster, and one we want in a bad way. Speaking of Browns ... Dorey Brown (*2007)  who is also down in Georgia (GMA alongside LBs Grant and Coley), is one we should sign and probably will if things continue to go our way and provided he qualifies. The same goes for Grant, we need him to qualify in order to sign and enroll. At any rate if we sign most of those less Williams (like I said he will end up at Georgia) ladies and gentlemen ... then you are looking at possibly the Number One linebacker class in the United States of America this coming February. We could not ask for more than that when it comes to closing gaps and plugging holes.
We are sitting pretty at defensive end ... and it appears that we are about to reload.
Returning next season are George Gause (*2004), Moe Thompson (*2005), Jason Capers (*2004), James Scott (*2005) and Randy Jackson (*2003). Jackson may get more work on the inside next year than he has this season. And remember my mention of Slay possibly being moved from LB to DE which right now it appears that is going to happen. There is also an outside chance that Fran Person may work at defensive end permanently. He has the size and speed but he still needs work on his technique and strength, otherwise he'll be moved back to TE or the OL.
Already committed is big-timer Charles Silas (*2004). He is a player. For all of us that have been following Silas since high school, he is definitely on the same scale with Gause and Thompson.
Our defensive end wish list includes Doug Langenfeld (*2004),  among others. We need to sign at least two, perferably three, big time defensive ends in this next class. Available scholarships are going to play a roll in just how many DEs we will sign - and for that reason I suspect the magic number will be two. By the way, Langenfeld, a South Carolina native playing on the west coast, is considered the number one JuCo defensive end prospect in America by many. But I'm worried about Langenfeld at the moment because he is taking so long to pull the trigger. The longer he goes without committing to us, the more our chances at signing him decrease. If we fail to sign (or at least get a strong commitment from) Langenfeld look for us to put more pressure on a kid by the name of Josh Johnson in Tampa, Florida. My sources tell me that we have already offered Johnson and that he has narrowed it to us and Michigan State.
Let's pause right here and talk about something for a minute.
For the past four seasons, including this season, we have been adequate on defense. Not exceptional. Good enough to get the job done but by no means dominating. The reason for that is that we have been recruiting and grooming young talent to bolster a sparse star or two such as Sheldon Brown, Andre Goodman, Willie Offord, Rashad Faison, John Abraham, Kenny Harney, Shannon Wadley, Kalimba Edwards and Cleveland Pinkney. But even then those playermakers have been scattered about on our roster at different times. Imagine having all of those players on the same squad in the same season. That is what I am talking about when I say we have to plug the holes in order to close the gap on the big boys. Because the big boys have players such as the aforementioned on their squads every season. And they have lots of them.
If we will sign the majority of the players in red above to bolster what we have returning, then we will for the for the first time, have depth and talent on the level of the Floridas and Tennessees in the East.
That is if we can finish strong with this next class by signing a couple of serious defensive tackles and/or nose tackles - but even that may not be enough and it illustrates our lacking at this position in the past three classes.
Returning next season is a talented pair with a lot of potential. Eric Stroman (*2005) and Preston Thorne (*2004) will be thrown into the fire and they are going to have to come up big for us if we are going to improve on the defensive side of the ball in 2003. Randy Jackson, as already mentioned, is being moved to the interior defensive line and Brandon Schweitzer (*2005) will join him as a redshirted freshman with a tremendous upside at the position. And you might see Fran Person down and inside - but I seriously doubt it. Our only real hope is to sign at least one major major player with the ability to contribute right away - and then add as many talented project prospects as possible to the class. A project is usually any freshman interior defensive line signee. Immediate freshman contributors on the DL are very rare indeed.
Already committed is JuCo superstar Darrell Shropshire (*2004). He is very highly rated ... much as Shaun Smith was so keep that in mind. On our DT wish list are players such as Eric Holcombe and others. 
I have a feeling that our coaches have an ace up their sleeve that they are waiting to play. When we scan our defensive tackle wish list we see plenty of highly rated players who I am being told are long shots for the Gamecocks. But I also am getting vibes that as signing day grows nearer there are going to be two defensive linemen added to that list that are going to make us happy campers in the Brick City. I hope I am reading things right because we absolutely cannot afford another lackluster defensive tackle class. Here's a hint about the information I have been handed as of yesterday. Think two word last name in French. That's all I can say at the moment while running the risk of being strangled for saying that much in the first place. But when it finally does come to you, and you figure it out ... you heard it here first. Remember that fellow Gamecock fans.
Anyway, back to the topic at hand. Name the one position in which all of the big boys dominate during their finest seasons?
Defensive Tackle. And that alone validates my point. If we are ever going to close the gap and gain on the big boys in the SEC we are going to have to find at least four defensive tackles that can line it up and take on anything the SEC throws at us. For instance ... imagine having four Langston Moores on our current squad. Imagine having just three! That is what it is going to take for us to completely close the gap and we are going to have to put them on the field at the same time that we have superior talent backing them up at other positions. How difficult will that be!
Defensive Special Teams
Punter Josh Brown (*2005) returns next season as the heir apparent to Tyler Dean. It would be a plus if we could pick-up a combo kicker in this next class. Preferably a walkon with potential. By "combo kicker" I mean one who both punts and kicks-off because as we mentioned in Part 1, we need another kicker on this football team.
We are not going to sign a scholarship punter in this next class. What we will sign, to bolster our Defensive Special Teams that has already been discussed, is a good group of athletically gifted linebackers and DBs that will help us tremendously on our kick off and punt coverage teams. And what we will sign according to my sources, is at least one special walkon special teamer. Another hint? He's a fox living near the big water. This is fun isn't it!
Part Two Summary: We have a solid foundation to build upon talent wise on the defensive side of the football. We suffered a bit this year in the secondary but that should payoff next season when we field an experienced and talented group of DBs. We look good at defensive end right now and should only get better with this next class. Our linebacking talent and depth continues to grow stronger and with this next class it may become one of the finest groups of its kind in the country. Where we are lacking, and may continue to suffer, is on the interior defensive line. Shropshire is a player according to the experts but you just never know about the JuCo transfers until they lace it up in the SEC and get it on come game time. But all-in-all this is shaping up to be a very strong class of defensive signees for 2003.
So if you have been keeping up with everything you noticed the red bracked numbers that followed each position breakdown. We ended with a . What does it mean?
What that number 32 means is that when added, all of the high interest prospects and committments that I listed in Parts 1 & 2 total 32. And that does not take into account the possibility that we could be looking to sign more defensive tackles than I projected, or a field goal specialist, or a kick-return tailback prospect. Add those to the total and you are looking at 35. And we know we can only bring in 25 prospects in any given summer class. Plus we may be looking at bringing in four max in the spring. Or four JuCos max that would/could be placed on this year's roster for next year's roster. Confused? Me too. But to be safe let's say we can and will enroll AT LEAST 27 new players for next year's football team. I am not writing of signees mind you. I am speaking strictly of those who will qualify and enroll. So with that in mind I shall leave it to you to go back through Parts 1 & 2 and cull five prospects from those listed, eight if we sign the additional players that went unnamed, from your wish list.
In other words, if our current commitment list of 15 remains intact, less the one I am expecting to decommit, and they all qualify ... then we have room for only 12 or 13 more. So for the fun of it, go back through both parts and select 12-13 off the wish list of players in red. Balance your positions, be sure to fill needs. You just about cannot go wrong choosing from the players mentioned which we have offered. And hope that we find a couple more serious defensive tackle prospects to add to the group. (Hint Hint)
Will we finally close the gap "talent wise" with this next class? Yes, we have a good chance of doing so. I do believe some of that will depend upon how we close the season and how our visits go in January. But we are looking good at the moment.
Again, having a third consecutive highly-rated class THAT FILLS OUR NEEDS AND PLUGS HOLES is imperative to our future success. We cannot afford to hiccup with this class. This next class has to be as strong or stronger than last year's class if we are going to continue to make a serious run at closing the gap with the big boys in the SEC.
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.