Is South Carolina the "DB U" of this decade?

It may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of South Carolina football, but "DB U" could be a fitting title for the Gamecock football program. USC has had thirteen defensive backs drafted since 2000, second only to Ohio State, who has produced fourteen drafted defensive backs in that same time span.

While there were certainly other notable Carolina defensive backs like Brad Edwards, Lee Wiggins, and Ray Green to come before them, a quartet of secondary players under Lou Holtz made Gamecock history and started a trend of great defensive backs playing at the University of South Carolina.

The Quartet That Started it All

Defensive back Arturo Freeman, a four-year starter with multiple All-SEC honors to his credit, concluded an outstanding career at South Carolina in the fall of 1999 and was drafted in the 5th round by the Miami Dolphins in the 2000 NFL Draft, becoming the first Gamecock DB of the new decade to be drafted and beginning a prominent pipeline of USC secondary players in the modern era to make it to "the league."

In the 2002 Draft, the trio of defensive backs Sheldon Brown, Andre Goodman, and Willie Offord became the first group of teammates from a South Carolina secondary to all be selected in the same draft.

Brown was an All-SEC selection his senior season and appeared on several different All-American lists. He was a semi-finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, the award given to college football's top defensive back each season. The Eagles selected Brown in the 2nd round with the 59th overall pick that year.

Sheldon Brown became a household name across the country when he delivered the above "Hit of the year" to Reggie Bush in the 2007 season.

Goodman's incredible speed and covering ability made him one of the top corners in the SEC during his final two seasons with the Gamecocks. His 4.36 second 40-yard dash time at the NFL combine improved his draft status immensely and convinced the Lions to pick him in the 3rd round with the 68th overall pick.

Just two picks after Goodman, the Minnesota Vikings selected Offord with the 70th overall pick. He was known as one of the greatest tacklers out of the defensive backfield to ever play for South Carolina. Of his 185 collegiate tackles, 110 were solo stops.

The Recent Stars

Former USC quarterback-turned-safety Corey Jenkins continued the trend of Gamecock defensive backs making it to the NFL when he was selected by the Miami Dolphins in the 6th round of the 2003 draft. Jenkins played quarterback for the Gamecocks for most of his two-year career in the garnet and black, before transitioning to safety late in his senior season and quickly showcasing his athleticism and hard-hitting prowess in the secondary - a move that clearly paid off by helping Jenkins get an opportunity in the NFL.

In 2004, the Gamecocks had the luxury of Dunta Robinson, arguably the nation's best cornerback, playing for them. Robinson was named the Gamecocks' Defensive MVP his senior season, and the talented, lockdown corner finished his career with 114 tackles and 5 interceptions. He was selected in the first round as the 10th overall pick by the Houston Texans.

Dunta Robinson has gone on to enjoy a successful career in the NFL, and much like Sheldon Brown, he has developed the reputation for being one of the hardest-hitting corners in the league.

The 2004 draft also featured Gamecock safety DeAndre Eiland, an athletic and physical player in the USC secondary, who was selected by the Minnesota Vikings in the 6th round. Eiland was a fixture in the Gamecock defensive backfield during his four years in Columbia, totaling an impressive 211 tackles and 9 interceptions during his USC career.

Versatile defender Rod Wilson, who played safety for much of his Gamecock career, was a two-year starter at South Carolina and led the team with 68 tackles in his senior season. Continuing the trend of former Gamecock DBs making it to the NFL, Wilson was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the 7th round of the 2005 draft, although he went on to play linebacker in the pros.

Rock Hill has been kind to the Gamecocks, producing two recent highly touted prospects, Stephon Gilmore and DeVonte Holloman, as well as several former South Carolina greats. Two of them, Johnathan Joseph and Ko Simpson, can be considered among the best defensive backs to ever put on a Gamecock jersey. During the 2005 season, Joseph had 55 tackles and 4 interceptions while Simpson was responsible for amassing an incredible 103 tackles and 1 interception. The Bengals selected Joseph with the 24th overall pick, and Simpson was taken by the Bills in the 4th round of the 2006 draft.

Manning, S.C native Fred Bennett, a productive four-year player at cornerback, also enjoyed a solid 2005 season with 3 interceptions and 31 tackles. The following year he emerged as one of the top shut-down corners in the nation. His statistics for 2006 don't reflect a great season, but a large part of that was due to opposing teams choosing not to throw much in his direction. Bennett was taken in the 4th round by the Texans in the 2007 draft.

Cornerback Fred Bennett, seen above celebrating after USC's 30-22 win over Florida in 2005, was a key member of the Gamecock secondary from 2003-2006.

This past season saw the departure of Captain Munnerlyn and Stoney Woodson from the Gamecock secondary. Although lacking in size, Munnerlyn made a name for himself in the SEC with his dynamic speed and aggressive play. Only a junior, Munnerlyn decided to turn pro and was selected in the 7th round by the Carolina Panthers in this year's draft.

Woodson was a stalwart defender who had a knack for making big plays. His work ethic and experience were two of the assets that helped him become a key contributor for the four years that he was in Columbia. Woodson exhausted his eligibility last season, and the New York Giants selected Woodson in the 7th round of the 09' draft.

The Fresh Meat

As a prized wide receiver recruit, Chris Culliver came to South Carolina in 2007 looking to make an immediate impact. After failing to grasp the complex plays in Spurrier's offensive system as a freshman, Culliver was moved to free safety last spring and has found a permanent home after recording 60 tackles and 3 interceptions in his sophomore season. His blazing speed has allowed him to break on the ball and make plays that others could not get to. He should enjoy an even better junior campaign with a full year's worth of experience under his belt.

Strong safety Darian Stewart is the undisputed leader of the Gamecock secondary. He boasts the most experience of any returning player in the secondary and has proven that he is more than capable of making plays with his nose for the ball and sure-tackling ability. A quality senior season under the belt of Stewart should bump his draft status even higher for next year's draft.

Stephon Gilmore was one of the headliners of South Carolina's 2009 signing class, and he's done nothing but impress since he arrived on campus. Having already grabbed a starting spot at one of the cornerback positions, Gilmore is well on his way to a spectacular career as a Gamecock. Before even playing a down, Steve Spurrier has touted Gilmore as one of the best recruits to ever come to South Carolina.

Akeem Auguste introduced himself to the SEC last season with a bone-jarring hit on Ole Miss wide receiver Lionel Breaux. Even though he didn't start as a true freshman, he played in 11 of 13 games last year and has shown signs of being a star in the making. Entering this year as a starter at cornerback, Gamecock fans should be pleasantly surprised by they see from Auguste this year.

Akeem Auguste, seen above celebrating USC's 24-17 win over Kentucky last season, is slated to be the Gamecocks' No. 1 corner this fall.

True freshmen DeVonte Holloman and Damario Jeffery have each shown great potential as young, athletic safety-types, but they are both expected to switch to linebacker down the road once they have gained more size. Holloman will enter the preseason as the second team free safety, while Jeffery is expected to challenge for a starting spot at the hybrid Spur linebacker position.

The current depth chart isn't very deep for South Carolina in the secondary, but if the encouraging reports from summer drills are accurate, the Gamecocks' defensive backfield could perform better than most expect this season.

A reputation for having a great secondary as well as consistently placing defensive backs into the NFL are two things that DB prospects will continue to be attracted to about the Gamecock program. With recent history on its side and more talent coming up within the program, South Carolina may in fact be able to hold claim to the title "DB U" for this decade and beyond.

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