There's no rest for the weary in the world of a college football recruiter, and just as the battle for top running back Marcus Lattimore was done, and 24 new Gamecocks inked their signatures on Wednesday, a new battle began in earnest.
As recruiting coordinator Shane Beamer said in yesterday's National Signing Day Press Conference, recruiting is a 365 day a year job. The staff was already on the phone with multiple schools yesterday checking in on juniors, according to Beamer, in search for the prospects who will make up next year's Gamecock signing class.
While Lattimore was obviously the centerpiece of a solid 2010 class, no 2011 prospect is likely more important than South Pointe (Rock Hill, S.C.) DE Jadeveon Clowney.
The 6-6, 235-pound terror off the edge is a prototypical defensive end prospect in the mold of class of 2007 top prospect and Florida star Carlos Dunlap, who was a standout at Fort Dorchester High School in Charleston. As physically gifted as Dunlap was, Clowney may be just as talented and is further along in his development. Clowney is a future five-star player and is projected to be the top player in the state for 2011.
Clowney has already received offers from many top programs around the country with tenders from programs like South Carolina, Clemson, LSU, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina and Miami.
While the Gamecocks are the early favorite to land the prized recruit, no one is expecting an early commitment. The Gamecocks have the state of South Carolina veteran Ellis Johnson on the job, but this one will have the potential to get nasty with school stopping at nothing to land a prospect like Clowney. This will be a knock down, drag 'em out fight until the end, but the Gamecocks' have a lot of help in their corner.
If Clowney is the top overall target, then his position group, the defensive line, may be the top overall priority. Clifton Geathers left early for the NFL, Nate Pepper graduated, and Cliff Matthews and Ladi Ajiboye are in their final year in the program.
The Gamecocks will also have an excellent chance to re-sign DE Leon Mackey. The 6-6, 260-pound prospect signed with Carolina out of Hargrave Prep in 2009, but ended up at Hinds CC in Mississippi after he was denied by the NCAA. Mackey will likely at least be a four-star JUCO prospect.
It looked likely at one point that a JUCO defensive tackle would be in order for 2011, but the late addition of Bryson Jerideau eliminates that need if he performs as expected. The Gamecocks will still look to add another top defensive tackle to go along with Dixon, Jr.
South Carolina has offered Manning DT Phillip Dukes, and he even had the Gamecocks out front at one time, but Clemson is considered a big leader at this time. 6-5, 275-pound First Coast (Jacksonville, Fla.) DT Derrick Mitchell is one to watch early. Mitchell recently listed South Carolina in his top four, along with Florida State, North Carolina and Georgia. He will ultimately likely be hard to pull for the Gamecocks, but the Carolina coaches will always be welcome at First Coast and they should have a chance with him. It's extremely early and dozens of other names will also pop up as Carolina looks to fill this need.
Other defensive line prospects that have offers from Carolina are East Hall HS (Gainesville, Ga.) DE Sterling Bailey, Thomas County (Thomasville, Ga.) DE Ray Drew, Auburn HS (Ala.) DE LaMichael Fanning, Boynton Beach HS (Fla.) DE Johnathan Harris, Fort Beach HS (Fla.) DE Giorgio Newberry, Asheville HS (N.C.) DE Jeoffrey Pagan and Carver HS (Columbus, Ga.) DT Gabe Wright.
2010 Defensive Line Total: 4
2011 Early Defensive Line Projection: 6-7
Quality Over Quantity
With the numbers already on campus, South Carolina will not look to sign a huge class at linebacker, but it would like to sign two or three good ones. Ellis Johnson and the Gamecock coaching staff have to look no further than right here in the state of South Carolina to find that.
South Carolina has already offered in-state prospects Williston Elko's Dexter Staley, Marlboro County's Lateek Townsend and Cheraw's Sam Merriman.
The 6-2, 213-pound Townsend may not be quite the athlete that Staley is but he is further along in his development and a more proven linebacker as potentially a future four-star prospect. Townsend has offers from Clemson, East Carolina, Illinois, N.C. State and Maryland as well, but this could be shaping into a classic in-state battle.
Townsend recorded 189 tackles, 13 sacks and an interception while forcing three fumbles during his junior campaign. While Clemson got a head start on South Carolina in offering Townsend, he recently attended the Gamecock basketball team's upset victory over No. 1 Kentucky, and left extremely impressed with the atmosphere and Gamecock fans. Ellis Johnson is recruiting the natural linebacker for the Gamecocks.
Merriman is a 6-1, 190-pound outside linebacker who also has an offer from Clemson. Merriman isn't as well-known as Staley or Townsend yet but belongs in the same group. Despite the fact the Gamecocks offered Merriman first, Clemson is thought to have the upper hand.
Out of state South Carolina sent out extremely early offers to Ashbrook HS (Gastonia, N.C.) duo Norkeithus Otis and Zeek Bigger. Otis is a 6-3, 195-pounder while Bigger checks in at 6-2, 205 pounds. Jeep Hunter is recruiting them for the Gamecocks. Anson HS (Wadesboro, N.C.) LB Stephone Anthony already has offers from many of the top programs in the country, including Carolina, and the Gamecocks will look to be a factor with the 6-3, 220-pound prototypical linebacker. Anthony will rank as one of the top linebackers in the country.
The Gamecocks have also extended offers to Blount HS (Prichard, Ala.) LB Antonio Marsh, South Gwinnett HS LB (Snellville, Ga.) Edward Muldrow, Coral Gables HS (Fla.) LB Denzel Perryman, Pedro Menendez HS (St. Augustine, Fla.) LB Tony Steward and Tucker HS (Ga.) LB James Vaughters.
2010 Linebacker Total: 2
2011 Early Linebacker Projection: 2-3
This is part one of a three part series of articles featuring an early look at the number of prospects the Gamecocks will look to add at each position in the class of 2011.