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August 18, 2013
Top 15 recruiting sagas
To celebrate GamecockCentral.com's 15th Anniversary, we're putting together some fun lists of "Top 15" things -- players, coaches, events, etc -- that Gamecock Central was there to either help cover, celebrate or just plain commiserate.
Today's installment is the top-15, in no particular order, recruiting sagas involving the Gamecocks.
The Hannah Shocker
Hope Mills (N.C.) South View tight end Jonathan Hannah was one of the top tight end prospects in the country in the 2005 recruiting class, ranked by Rivals.com as a four-star prospect and as a member of that year's Rivals100. Early in the process, the Tarheel State native was focused on a bunch of schools not named South Carolina; specifically Georgia, UNC, NC State, Penn State, and Virginia Tech.
Then Steve Spurrier was hired at USC and called a couple of months before National Signing Day to offer Hannah a scholarship to play for him in Columbia. The Gamecocks instantly became the frontrunner, but the race was far from over. Hannah made a full slate of official visits consisting of trips to Clemson, North Carolina, NC State, South Carolina, and Virginia Tech. He set an announcement date of January 24, 2005 and at that ceremony chose Virginia Tech. After his commitment ceremony, Hannah told Rivals.com that North Carolina finished second. NC State, another program in the mix, was the school that Hannah's father played for during his college career. The decision to bypass both of the in-state programs was one that was interesting and generated rumors up until signing day, rumors that Hannah debunked while reaffirming his intentions to sign with Virginia Tech even right down until the wire. Signing day morning arrived and Hannah did end up spurning the Hokies, but it was for the out of state Gamecocks in one of the more interesting turns of events on a signing day in recent memory.
GamecockCentral.com caught up with Hannah, who gave his recollection of the events:
"I rushed my initial commitment and did it out of spite because everyone thought they knew where I was going. Not to say I didn't like UNC or Virginia Tech but I felt like the opportunity to play for Coach Spurrier and Stockstill along with being in the SEC and my parents relocating to Spartanburg was too good to pass up. They (parents) would have been in Spartanburg regardless. I knew a few days before signing day that I didn't think Virginia Tech was the best option for me. I told the other schools recruiting me that morning of signing day. South Carolina didn't know until after I made the announcement. My recruitment was crazy but I could and should have handled it better. I was a confused kid who had a lot of options thrown at me."
Hannah transferred from South Carolina after his freshman season and then went to Louisburg College in North Carolina. After it looked for a time like he would head to NC State, he transferred to Florida State but never saw the field due to an academic issue. He finished his career at Texas Southern in 2009.
Going the other way
South Carolina was on the positive side of the Hannah shocker, but on the wrong side of one involving Peach State lineman Byron Isom in the 2006 class. It came down to Auburn and South Carolina for the Hampton (Ga.) Lovejoy three-star product, and he made official visits to both programs. Auburn's trip was in January and the Tigers built a lead that South Carolina was able to overcome after a January official visit. Isom went back and forth on the two schools and both schools appeared to have a good shot depending on what day - or what minute - it was. In a recruiting story that's almost legendary now amongst Gamecock fans, Isom was barely able to come to a decision. Nobody knows more about the story than veteran Lovejoy coach Al Hughes, so we will let him tell it:
"Every year the night before signing day we have a big press conference in our commons area. We let each kid have an opportunity to stand up at the podium. It's something we rehearse. We want to make sure they show some character and show their appreciation to all involved. Then we allow the kid to declare at the end."
"We had about 17 kids sign that year and Byron, we called him Lee, his dad was driving in from out of town. I told him I would let him go last, that way his dad could get back into town. He was still teeter-tottering and wasn't sure. Cell phones had become pretty popular, so the schools wanted to hear the announcement live and in color. I told him we'll let you put both cell phones up there and you say at this time I'm still undecided and will be able to let someone know after the morning. Then we'll close the ceremony, and tomorrow we'll come in. That way you won't have any pressure tonight. He sat there as 16 other kids got up and they went through their spiel. He sat through all those people and I guess as he sat there and listened I guess he thought 'I can do this, I can make my decision too.' I was assuming he was going to say he was undecided. Coach (Tyrone) Nix was on one (phone) and Coach Hugh Nall was on the other at Auburn. They were kind of expecting the same thing. Lee goes through his whole spiel, takes about five or 10 minutes and gets to the part and says 'I'd like to continue my education at Auburn.' I like to fell out of the chair and almost pulled a hamstring. I could hear Coach Nall screaming and hollering on one phone and Coach Nix screaming and hollering on the other phone but they weren't using the same language. I grabbed one phone and passed the other one to one of my assistants. I went through my little spiel and closed the ceremony and then grabbed Lee and said 'what do you think you were doing?'"
"The next morning at eight o clock we're ready to roll. We have an assembly line set up, a table set up. We're going to set them in, take their picture, sign all the paperwork. That coach is going to take the paperwork, run up to the office and set it up. We get down to number 17 and he still ain't there. I see him walking in the door. You could tell by the look on his face he was an unhappy camper. My brother who was the defensive coordinator walked up and said 'Coach, we got a little problem'. I put them in a room and told them not to come out until we have something. I give all the kids a little sheet where they check off and ask questions to the different schools and they rank each question by number. At the end of the deal they can add all the numbers up and get a good idea of who's the number one choice. We went and added those things up about two hours again and he came up with a total where it looked like Auburn was in the lead. I said it looks to me like you've chosen Auburn, so I got him to send the paper real quick. Once it got faxed, it was too late to change his mind there. The day of the press conference he had on a South Carolina sweatshirt and hat and all that. When we actually got to the press conference, he didn't have any of that on, he just had on Lovejoy gear but walking around the school he had that on."
It's not often that something that lasts just two days qualifies as a saga, but the commitment of Columbia (S.C.) product Chris Payne to Clemson was surprising enough that it had to make this list. The lifelong Gamecock fan and down-the-road prospect from the 2009 class, drew offers from Michigan State and North Carolina in addition to both in-state schools and was generally thought of as a near-lock to USC. However, he and teammate Damario Jeffery pulled a shocker when both verbally committed to Clemson after a February 2008 unofficial visit to the Upstate.
"Me and Damario are Tigers now, yes sir," Payne told TigerIllustrated.com at the time of the commitment in a sentence that nobody ever thought would be seen.
Even the next day, despite keeping his commitment to the Tigers for the time being, Payne said that he was open and his comments made it seem that South Carolina was perhaps an even bigger factor than Clemson. The day after that, both Payne and Jeffery backed off of their pledges to the Tigers. At the beginning of March, Payne committed to USC. Jeffery, a former four-star a member of the Rivals100, followed later in the year in August by picking the Gamecocks over Alabama. Payne never made it to South Carolina; following a stint at Mississippi Gulf Coast he enrolled at Texas Tech where he is currently a senior. Jeffery
Coast to coast
Alshon Jeffery became one of the best receivers in South Carolina history during his three-year career, but he nearly took his talents to the USC that resides in the state of California.
The Calhoun County (S.C) star considered South Carolina heavily during the early stages of his recruitment, but it was Southern California that was able to land an early verbal commitment from him during the summer of 2008. As the year went on, the status of Jeffery's commitment went through periods of uncertainty; first rumored to be possibly wavering, then one-hundred percent publicly reaffirmed, then back to up in the air after Trojan offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian departed Los Angeles. Jeffery set a pair of official visits up to South Carolina and then Tennessee (where former Southern Cal offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin had been hired) in January. Jeffery kept listening to pitches (including Kiffin's infamous gas-pumping comments) all the way up until the night before signing day before signing with the Gamecocks.
Current Virginia Tech assistant Shane Beamer was on staff at South Carolina as the Gamecocks' recruiting coordinator at the time and was also the lead recruiter for Jeffery. He offered his thoughts to GamecockCentral.com on how the recruitment played out a few years ago:
"I was crushed when he committed to Southern Cal. I remember sitting on the back porch of my house in Columbia and talking to Alshon and Walt Wilson, his high school coach. Coach Wilson said keep recruiting him. He thinks a lot of you and a lot of South Carolina, keep recruiting him. That's what I did. I tried to be respectful of the fact he was committed to Southern Cal. The thing with Alshon was just constantly trying to sell him on the positives of staying at home and playing thirty minutes from your town as opposed to all the way across the country. I hit everything from when you would be able to see Southern Cal on television compared to the number of times you would see South Carolina. I can remember looking at flights, how much it would cost to take a plane flight from Columbia to California. It was a battle, no question about it. It went all the way until signing day. It really was the last night. I didn't feel totally comfortable until I guess that morning. I remember Alshon calling at like two o'clock in the morning the night before signing day just wanting to talk about some things and stuff like that. I didn't rest easy until signing day morning."
The Bailey chronicle
Mention the name Clarence Bailey to any Gamecock fan that followed recruiting in 2006 and sit back to enjoy the stories.
The fact that the big lineman's tale still inspires repartee on The Insiders Forum is evidence enough that it's worthy of inclusion on this list. The Trenton (N.J.) Lackawana junior college tackle's recruiting came down to Oklahoma, Ole Miss, and South Carolina towards the end and was primarily a Gamecocks/Rebels battle. After an official visit to USC in December, Bailey named South Carolina as his leader and said there was a 75 percent chance he would be signing with USC. Over the course of the next several days, the 6-foot-6, 308-pounder kept weighing his options and had a hard time reaching a decision. On December 19, he committed to then-Rebel head coach Ed Orgeron.
Two days later, Bailey changed his mind and was headed to South Carolina. The next step, however, was one he would never take. Bailey's academic situation prevented him from ever enrolling at USC, and he instead attended Albany State. He is now an assistant coach at a high school in New Jersey.
Golson's wild ride
Another Calhoun County product made this list, but this one never set foot on campus at USC as a student-athlete. Talented edge-rusher Brandon Golson is finally at a Division I school - West Virginia - practicing. His path to do so is one of the most circuitous of which anyone will hear.
Golson originally signed with South Carolina in the 2010 class but was denied admission to the school that summer. Other schools like Arkansas and Louisville inquired but Golson ultimately decided to head to Fork Union Military Academy for prep school. The academic problems would continue, as the Palmetto State product headed to Louisville in January but was unable to stay on the team due to those NCAA issues. He then made his way to the JUCO ranks with Georgia Military College. It looked like Golson would finally make his way to USC after he committed to the Gamecock program again in May of 2012.
The twists and turns were far from over, though. Golson continued flirtations with other programs like Arizona and Texas A&M. Sources close to the South Carolina program reached a point where Golson was not considered a pledge any longer and Golson told Rivals.com in July that he did not consider himself a commitment either. USC's staff had previously warned Golson that looking around at other schools could risk him losing his spot in the Gamecocks' class, which is precisely what ended up happening. There were also continued question marks about whether or not Golson would be able to qualify for admission. Golson committed to Arizona in October, and once again made contact with USC in December about re-joining the class. Eventually nothing came of it, and Golson switched again on signing day 2013 to West Virginia.
Golson was arrested earlier this year, throwing his status with the Mountaineers in doubt but he is enrolled at Morgantown, going through practice, and doing well according to those that follow the program.
Lattimore, one of the most revered figures in USC athletics history (for good reason), handled his recruitment in the manner one would expect - with class and respect. There were no games, misleading coaches, or immature behavior. The lone "fun" he had with the process was keeping everyone in the dark for a few days while he awaited his announcement, and then a bit of a hat trick when he pulled out an Auburn cap and replaced it with a Gamecock one to the sheer ecstasy of USC fans everywhere.
The former five-star prospect, ranked as the top back in the country by Rivals.com, was sought after by basically every program in the country but early on it was easy to see that USC would be a big factor for the long haul. The Gamecock staff had to deal with some coaching changes (we will let former assistant Beamer detail more of those in the space below) but his comfort level with USC was outstanding. In August of 2009, Lattimore cut his list to a final five: Auburn, North Carolina, Oregon, Penn State, and South Carolina. Florida State was expected to make that cut and after not doing so, was able to stay in the picture to a degree along with Georgia.
North Carolina dropped out in December and USC faced another coaching change when offensive line coach/run game coordinator Eric Wolford took the Youngstown State head coaching job. Lattimore dropped Oregon and Penn State in January, leaving just the Tigers of Auburn and the Gamecocks.
Lattimore's announcement came the day before signing day, and some were still worried about whether or not he would take his talents to Auburn or South Carolina. After a long period of silence, even though this writer had felt for a while it would be the Gamecocks, Lattimore sent a text message in confidence saying that he had made his decision. After being asked the verdict, Lattimore responded: "GO COCKS." Lattimore put a cap on his recruitment by having former Auburn star Stephen Davis hand him a bag that contained an Auburn hat that Lattimore initially had in hand before grabbing the hat of his home-state school.
Shane Beamer also offered his thoughts on Lattimore's recruitment:
"I remember he had a great relationship early in his high school career with Robert Gillespie. When Robert left for Oklahoma State, I remember thinking that would hurt us with Marcus. Jay Graham came in, from day one Jay Graham tried to develop a relationship with Marcus and he did a great job with it where Marcus felt comfortable with Jay. Marcus' family felt comfortable with everybody involved in the program. Coach Spurrier did a great job building a relationship with Marcus and his family. Great kid. I don't know how it was on other recruiting visits he went on, but I just remember thinking how comfortable and outgoing and at home Marcus and Marcus' mom seemed when they were on their official visit to South Carolina."
The big show
Jadeveon Clowney was the consensus number one prospect in the country coming out of Rock Hill (S.C.) South Pointe and was already anointed as a future number one NFL Draft pick before he ever set foot on a college football field.
His sophomore highlight tape was way better than most one will see from a senior and the reels only got more impressive the next two seasons. Stallions head coach Bobby Carroll lined him up in one game at running back and Clowney took a toss sweep 97 yards for a touchdown, outrunning everyone. His dreadlocks flowed as he, at 6-foot-6 and about 250 pounds, participated in one leg of his high school team's 4x100 meter relay. He tallied 29.5 sacks his senior season and teams often had to devote two or three blockers, futilely, to try to slow him down. All of those things made him one of the most sought-after prospects perhaps ever in recruiting.
Fortunately for South Carolina, Clowney was right down the road but it would be no easy task to get him. Veteran assistant Ellis Johnson was tasked with trying to land the elite talent, and every member of USC's staff in some form helped out including current defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward notably towards the end of the process. There were surely bumps in the road; not everything in the process was favorable towards USC, every program in the country wanted Clowney, and he received a ridiculous amount of media attention. For some time, it was an Alabama/South Carolina battle but Clemson tried to make a push as the days wound down. He made official visits to all three programs (USC in November, Alabama and the final one to Clemson in January) and the Clemson talk at the end nearly created hysteria among the USC fanbase. However, Clowney wanted to play in the SEC and the steady hand of Johnson helped guide USC to landing him, albeit by making everyone sweat just a bit longer past signing day when he announced on February 14.
Shane Beamer on Clowney's recruiting:
"It was crazy but it wasn't as crazy as you might think. That's the thing that I appreciate about Jadveveon, the thing I appreciate about Marcus Lattimore, about Alshon Jeffery. They weren't all caught up in their recruiting. They enjoyed it, but they didn't feel the need to constantly tell everybody how great they were and how many stars they had. The great ones, they don't have to broadcast it. People know. It wasn't as big a focus as it could have been."
"Ellis did a great job with him. Having Stephon and Devonte in Columbia already was huge for us. The fact that we were winning and Clowney could sit there and say well, Alshon Jeffery came here two years ago and could have gone anywhere in the country. Gilmore and Holloman and Lattimore could have gone anywhere in the country and they came to South Carolina. Those guys led the way and made it OK for Clowney to come. Ellis did a great job of getting in there and developing a relationship and knowing people that were key and close to Jadeveon. It was a battle every single day but like we did every day with those guys, we would sell them on how good South Carolina football could be if guys would stay at home and make the program special and win championships. They came and now it's a great run for South Carolina."
Not once, but twice, it looked like South Carolina's eventual 2012 Mr. Football would end up in the Garnet and Black.
Goose Creek (S.C.) four-star athlete Tramel Terry was a big lean to South Carolina early in the process when he jumped onto the recruiting radar as a sophomore. During the summer heading into this junior year, South Carolina appeared poised to land a verbal commitment from the Lowcountry playmaker at USC's annual Gamecock Showcase camp. Behind the scenes, Terry had made his intentions known to those around him. There was just one holdup, though: another camp visit was slated for the weekend before to Georgia. Terry made his way to Georgia's elite Dawg Night camp and although not expected at all going in, left as a verbal commitment to the Bulldogs.
It was a surprising development, and one that sources close to the situation thought that Terry believed himself that he rushed into at the time almost immediately. He made his way to Columbia the following week and continued to keep things quiet as he sorted things out internally. In September of 2011, Terry decommitted from Georgia. Clemson, Georgia, and South Carolina all remained in the mix to varying degrees until the following summer even though Terry had "recommitted" to Georgia in March of 2012.
That summer, the next Gamecock Showcase rolled around and Terry once again made the trip, where he established contact once again with South Carolina's coaches and it looked like some things were cleared up. Although many thought Terry would ultimately stick with Georgia behind the scenes, the door definitely looked open for USC. Early in the season, Terry made a trip to South Carolina for a home game and in the locker room afterwards the impression was given that he would be back for an official visit. Ultimately, that did not come to fruition as South Carolina cooled on having Terry visit USC again as a Dawg commitment. That left Georgia and Clemson for the Lowcountry athlete. Clemson made a run at causing an unprecedented "re-decommit" from Georgia, but Terry stuck with the Dawgs and enrolled in Athens in January.
Perhaps one of the most asked questions and frequently talked-about topics in the history of GamecockCentral.com message boards was regarding Gaffney (S.C.) wide receiver Quinshad Davis in the 2012 class.
South Carolina's coaching staff targeted three wide receivers during that recruiting cycle and set out to accept commitments from the first three prospects on the board as "takes" that wanted to jump in the Gamecock boat. Once the position began filling, it filled quickly as USC's staff got three receiver commitments in the span of three days. First, it was Dillon's Kwinton Smith on July 6. That was followed by North Carolina's Jody Fuller on July 8 and Shaq Roland the following day. Davis, a former four-star prospect, did not wish to make an early decision and the aforementioned three committed before him.
Around January, USC's staff spoke with the staff at Gaffney and communicated to Davis that the offer was still on the table. Deferring Davis' enrollment (commonly known as a "grayshirt") was discussed as an option if USC could not make room in a class that featured tight scholarship numbers.
Finally, USC's staff communicated that it would make room for Davis in the 2012 class regardless. Davis made official visits to Wake Forest, North Carolina, and Tennessee and not to South Carolina.
Davis signed with North Carolina and after a strong freshman season, will be in Columbia with his team playing the Gamecocks in the season opener.
Let the questions begin.
South Carolina's 2007 class featured some big-time talent, but one that got away was North Charleston (S.C.) Fort Dorchester five-star defensive end Carlos Dunlap.
The 6-foot-7, 260-pounder displayed amazing athleticism for his size and drew scholarship offers from all over the country. In the end, it was the home-state Gamecocks and the Florida Gators, led by Charlie Strong that made the biggest push.
For a time, South Carolina looked to be in very good position with Dunlap. He made an official visit to South Carolina in December of 2006 and at that time became a silent commitment to the staff. However, Florida was lurking coming off of a national title and a wide-open depth chart for the star defender. South Carolina held its breath while Dunlap made a January official visit to Gainesville and exhaled (in disappointment) three days later when Dunlap announced he would play for the Gators.
Florida struck again during the 2013 cycle. South Carolina nabbed a commitment from Virginia linebacker Matt Rolin in May of 2012. Despite USC having initially offered as a tight end, the staff told Rolin it would give him a shot at his preferred position of linebacker.
Rolin seemed extremely solid. He had extensive family ties to USC and was happy with his commitment. Again, Florida lurked. The Gator staff made an in-home visit and following that, Rolin laughed it off and said he told Florida he was 100 percent solid to South Carolina. Still, Rolin kept in contact with Florida and made an official visit in early December to Gainesville.
Rolin suffered an ACL tear during the football season and had his surgery performed in Columbia. During that time, the feedback received by GamecockCentral.com indicated that Rolin informed the Gamecock staff that he was sticking with his commitment although Rolin later said he did not reaffirm that pledge. Later, he flipped to the Gators, citing the Gator defense and his comfort level with the coaching staff.
South Carolina's staff went on to sign an excellent linebacker class, picking up four-star Skai Moore out of Florida late, holding off Auburn for Alabama product Jonathan Walton, and four-star standout Larenz Bryant in addition to sleeper spur Mohamed Camara.
Palmetto State battle
It seems that recruiting battles between Clemson and South Carolina have become more and more rare, but Robertson is one that could still inspire some angry comments from Clemson fans.
Robertson, as an early enrollee, wanted to wrap up his decision in the summer. South Carolina jumped out to an early lead but heading into his July unofficial visit to Clemson, the Tigers had taken the edge for the four-star lineman. The North Carolina product went as far as to say that he knew where he was going, but that he had not committed anywhere yet right after that trip. He was also quoted as saying he was leaning to Clemson in the same interview, indicating that the Tigers seemingly had a big lead.
South Carolina was not done yet, though. Gamecock defensive line coach Brad Lawing, who had also offered Robertson's teammate Byron McKnight, convinced Robertson to take one last visit to South Carolina. A week after the Tigers appeared to be in great position for Robertson, Clemson lost out as he announced for USC.
Compounding the issue for Tiger fans was that Lawing was later sanctioned by the university for making phone calls during a time period in which phone contact was prohibited to Robertson and his family. Text messaging was still allowed at the time, and USC's self-reported penalties were deemed as minor infractions that did not give South Carolina a "significant recruiting advantage."
He was from Columbia and at the time a five-star prospect according to Rivals.com. That meant when Richland Northeast cornerback Gary Gray committed early to South Carolina in March of 2006 that it was cause for celebration for USC fans. It looked like Gray would be a big addition and a centerpiece of the class, and as much as it seemed it was over it was not.
Gray visited Notre Dame with his mother and an assistant coach in tow in July and issued a statement re-opening his recruitment. Several days later, Gray made a follow-up trip to South Carolina and met with the staff in Columbia, giving the public edge later to South Carolina.
By late August, Gray went on television and announced that the Irish once again had the edge. He made an official visit to Notre Dame in September and despite having previously scheduled one to South Carolina, cancelled that trip and committed publicly to Notre Dame.
Gamecock fans may not remember the name Tommy Sanders a few years down the road, but that does not make his story any less wild.
The Peach State product committed to Central Florida out of high school but after failing to qualify headed to Butler Community College, one of the best JUCO programs in the country. South Carolina jumped in late because the staff was interested in adding an experienced linebacker to the fold.
Sanders made a full slate of official visits. In chronological order, they were: UCF, Mississippi State, Texas A&M, Ohio State, and South Carolina. Interestingly, at one time or another every single school on the list had a good shot with Sanders. UCF was the first to drop off as Sanders focused on other places.
Mississippi State and Texas A&M led in November, with the Aggies likely holding the edge. Once Ohio State became involved, there was a question as to whether or not the Buckeyes would push. The staff offered Sanders and placed him on the board as a take and in fact the staff there was under the impression that Sanders would be heading to Columbus.
His original decision date of December 12 was pushed back while he mulled a final official visit to Auburn or South Carolina that ended up being to USC. The week after his official to Ohio State, Sanders visited South Carolina officially and told the Gamecock staff he would be playing for South Carolina. Up until the day before he ultimately announced for Texas A&M, Sanders and his family told USC that his intentions were to go to South Carolina. An announcement ceremony was set in Sanders' hometown in Georgia for December 19 that GamecockCentral.com was making plans to cover. The night before that announcement, Sanders' father announced that his son would be playing for the Aggies. It was a surprising development given the pro-USC feedback and the fact that many wondered if A&M's full recruiting class would even have room for him.
Honorable Mention: Alfy Hill, Eric Mack, Elijah Shumate, Stephon Gilmore, DeVonte Holloman, D.J. Swearinger, Jarvis Giles, Quinton Washington, Clifton Geathers, Olufemi Ajiboye, Justin Parker, Thomas Finnie, Carlos Dunlap, Tommy Streeter, Leon Mackey, John Fulton, Sharrif Floyd, Jarius Wynn, Carlos Brown, Tyriq McCord, Lateek Townsend
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