Help is on the way

It's no secret that the Gamecocks' season did not end the way Carolina fans had hoped. The Gamecocks dropped their final three games as the USC offense struggled, and the once-exceptional defense gave up 118 points. But with several defensive starters moving on, and a big need for offensive playmakers, a group of January enrollees will have every opportunity to contribute next year.

With the start of the South Carolina spring semester just a week away, five Carolina commitments are preparing to definitely join the program, while two others could as well. All seven of the potential enrollees are highly-regarded recruits at positions of need, and could immediately press for playing time next fall.

Perhaps the player most ready to make an immediate impact for the Gamecocks is Gaither High School (Tampa, Fla.) four-star running back Jarvis Giles. Giles originally chose Tennessee over South Carolina, but after Phil Fulmer was fired opened up his recruitment and eventually chose USC over Tennessee and Nebraska.

Giles, the nation's No. 34 ranked running back, brings a skill-set to the offense that none of the current ‘backs possess. Current running backs Brian Maddox and Eric Baker have shown flashes this season and will be ahead of Giles on the depth chart when he arrives, but neither has the explosiveness of the 5'11", 176-pounder. Giles, consistently timed in the 4.3's in the 40-yard dash, will bring speed to an offense in desperate need of speedy playmakers. His incredible first step and explosion through the hole make him the type running back the Gamecocks have missed throughout the Spurrier era. The versatile speedster will also be a candidate to help as a returner on special teams. While it will take him some time to learn the offense, going through spring practice should speed up that process. Giles is the type of game-changer that could be the spark the Gamecocks need.

Even more versatile than Giles is South Pointe (Rock Hill, SC) four-star cornerback Stephon Gilmore. Gilmore is simply a winner and led his Stallions to a 15-0 state championship season. He followed that by leading the Sandlappers to a Shrine Bowl come-from-behind win on his way to earning South Carolina offensive MVP honors. He then showed his promise as a college defensive back in the Under Armour All-American game breaking on a route and snatching an interception in the end zone.

Gilmore, who played quarterback, running back, wide receiver, free safety, cornerback, and on special teams at some point in his career could play multiple positions in college, but was brought in primarily as a cornerback by the Carolina staff. With college programs trending towards the 6'4"-and-up prototypical receivers, the 6'1", 180-pound Gilmore provides great size to match up with those type receivers. Gilmore is also incredibly fluid with natural instincts and plays the ball well in the air. With Carlos Thomas and Stoney Woodson exhausting their eligibility and Captain Munnerlyn likely forgoing his senior season, Gilmore will likely be asked to step in and play right away. Gilmore is a raw athlete, who could probably use a year of development under the tutelage of Shane Beamer, but probably won't be afforded that luxury.

There is the chance, depending ultimately on the depth at cornerback, that Gilmore could get a look at quarterback. He is a playmaker in the truest sense of the word and could provide a different look for opposing defenses. In a perfect world, Gilmore would learn the intricacies of playing cornerback while playing situationally on offense. It is more likely, however, that Gilmore will just play corner.

Gilmore will be joined by his South Pointe teammate and long-time friend Devonte Holloman as the two will likely room together. Holloman is raw as a player, but undoubtedly among the best athletes USC will sign this class. The 6'2", 215-pounder was once committed to Clemson, but decommitted after Tommy Bowden resigned.

Where Holloman plays will depend on his physical development in the weight room as well as his development as a player. The former Independence High star covers enough ground and has the instincts to play free safety, but could quickly outgrow that position. Holloman will likely start out his career at USC's spur linebacker hybrid position, but could eventually grow into a linebacker. While Holloman is considered a five-star prospect and the nation's No. 2 safety according to Scout.com, there have been some questions about his toughness. However, there is no questioning Holloman's upside and he has the potential to be the best player USC signs this class.

Also expected to come in and make an immediate impact are three-star Georgia Military Academy transfer linebackers Tony Straughter and Josh Dickerson. With SEC offers from Tennessee and Ole Miss as well as tenders from West Virginia and ECU, the tandem is fairly highly regarded. GMC head coach Bert Williams describes the tandem as "dynamic" and says they play extremely well together too.

At 6'2", 220 pounds Dickerson is the bigger of the two and more likely to play inside. With Jasper Brinkley and the underrated Marvin Sapp exhausting their eligibility, Dickerson will likely battle with Rodney Paulk (who redshirted this year) for the starting linebacker spot alongside senior Eric Norwood, who recently had a change of heart and decided to stay in school. Dickerson plays a physical brand of football and has become known for stepping up in the clutch, according to Williams. While it will be no easy task, Dickerson's physical style of play could make him a prime candidate to slide right into Brinkley's vacated spot.

At 6', 215 pounds Straughter is the faster of the two prospects, but also has great instincts according to his coach. Straughter was also considered a leader and high-energy player for GMC. USC defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson preferred smaller, quicker linebackers while at Mississippi State so it could be that Straughter is part of that progression and will start out inside with his teammate Dickerson as part of a transition back to a traditional 4-3 alignment. It is also possible that Straughter will slide out to the spur linebacker spot where he could be a perfect fit given his body type. There he would either back up starter Darian Stewart, or become the starter if Stewart plays strong safety as he did in the bowl game.

The prep school route has been very kind to the Gamecocks recently and the USC staff will be looking for that route to continue to pay dividends this season as well. The Gamecocks signed Ladi Ajiboye and Clifton Geathers out of Hargrave Military in 2007 and placed Antonio Allen, Akeem Auguste and Eric Baker at Fork Union the same year. After Allen, Auguste and Baker successfully joined the Gamecocks after just one semester at Fork Union, the staff decided to go the same route with signees Chaz Sutton and Ronald Byrd.

Sutton says that defensive line coach Brad Lawing has informed him that he has been accepted to USC and it's only a matter of time before it will be official. Sutton also informed GamecockAnthem.com that Byrd made a 21 on his ACT and is awaiting official word.His test score has been flagged by the NCAA due to how dramatically his test score improved. This may delay his enrollment.

Sutton will not be asked to come in and start immediately, but could be too talented to keep off the field in some capacity. The explosive edge-rusher was committed to Florida at one time, but chose to sign with the Gamecocks in 2008 when the staff said they were willing to take a chance on him despite his academic concerns. There is the possibility that Sutton will play linebacker in a role similar to Eric Norwood, but he believes his natural position is defensive end. With Jordin Lindsey exhausting his eligibility, Sutton will likely battle with Byron McKnight and Devin Taylor for the spots backing up Cliff Matthews and Clifton Geathers. Scout.com's Miller Safrit described Sutton as "one of the best looking football players I have seen this year," after his trip to see Sutton in person.

While not yet as productive as Sutton, Byrd has plenty of upside. At 6'6", 270 pounds, Byrd played defensive end at Fork Union, but could turn into a massive defensive tackle or even end up at offensive tackle. While Byrd will likely redshirt his first year at Carolina, he has tremendous potential and could burst onto the scene in his second season in Columbia.

Throughout the Spurrier era, the Gamecock staff has brought in talented newcomers for the spring semester to give those ready a head start on the competition. This group of early enrollees is as talented as any the staff has brought in, and their impact on the Gamecock football program could be almost immediate.


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