5 main takeaways from South Carolina's first day of Early Signing Period
Are the next Jadeveon Clowney and Connor Shaw on the way to Williams-Brice Stadium? South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp and the Gamecocks hope so after the first day of the Early Signing Period.
In a seemingly pedestrian recruiting class that is in the bottom half of the SEC’s early rankings, the Gamecocks boast two program-changing, top-55 prospects: DE Zacch Pickens and QB Ryan Hilinski.
This class has been largely intact for several months, but it added a couple of notable players this week.
As they celebrated Wednesday’s additions, the Gamecocks waited on CB Chris Steele of Bellflower, Calif., who is a major target. He won’t announce a school until the Army All-American Game on Jan. 5. South Carolina is trying to beat out the likes of Florida, Oklahoma and Oregon.
South Carolina was also waiting on an attempt to flip Auburn commitment WR Jashawn Sheffield of St. Simon’s Island, Ga. He reportedly won’t sign until February as he’s concerned about Tigers coach Gus Malzahn’s status. Another player not expected to sign early is Mississippi State commitment OL Darius Washington of Pensacola, Fla., another recruit South Carolina is trying to flip. Clemson and Florida State are among those also in the mix for him.
In the meantime, here are five takeaways from South Carolina’s first day of the Early Signing Period:
A rare 5-star
Pickens is the first 5-star in a South Carolina class since Clowney in 2011. He won South Carolina’s Mr. Football award during a season in which he had 82 tackles, 14 tackles for loss and five sacks, as his Anderson T.L. Hanna High team reached the state title game for the first time since 1974. Pickens, the nation’s No. 18 player in this class, is set to play in the Under Armour All-American game Jan. 3 in Dallas.
This extends a solid recruiting haul for South Carolina with in-state players. This is the sixth time in the past 11 seasons and 10th time since Mr. Football was founded in 1991 that South Carolina landed the winner of that award.
The analysts at 247 Sports rate Pickens as the No. 2 strong-side defensive end in the country.
QB of future
Hilinski is one of the most anticipated recruits in school history and he committed in April. It’s impressive that Gamecocks went outside their natural recruiting footprint to reel him in. Hilinski, of Orange Lutheran High in Orange, Calif., picked the Gamecocks early and never wavered as interest grew around the country, even from his long-time “dream” school Stanford. He even signed financial aid paperwork with South Carolina in November.
A 4-star prospect rated among the top three pro-style quarterbacks in the country, Hilinski has already dealt with a heavy dose of tragedy. His older brother, former Washington State quarterback Tyler Hilinski, committed suicide in January. That drew national attention from the likes of ESPN and The New York Times.
Hilinski will also play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Jan. 5 in San Antonio, then be in Columbia by Jan. 7 for the spring semester.
Big get late
Jakai Moore is the fourth offensive lineman in the class, joining Vincent Murphy, Mark Fox and Jaylen Nichols. Moore committed this week after narrowing his choices to South Carolina or Penn State. He is the best of South Carolina’s crop of offensive linemen, and he was sold on playing early.
“We don’t want you, we need you and I can come in and start early,” Moore said was the message he got from Muschamp and offensive line coach Eric Wolford during the recruiting process, according to Phil Kornblut. “When I talked to them, the first thing they told me is they are going to take care of me and my mom. They didn’t leave my mom out of anything. My mom is coming down there with me.”
The 6-foot-6, 295-pound offensive lineman from Nokesville, Va., announced his commitment to the Gamecocks Monday. Moore picked South Carolina over finalist Penn State and two dozen other scholarship offers. 247 rates Moore as a 3-star prospect and the nation’s No. 28 offensive guard.
Bulk of the signees ink now
This is the second time the Gamecocks have signed the bulk of their players in the early period, as they signed 23 last year. This year, Muschamp expected 18 to 22 players the Gamecocks to sign this week, with 13 or 14 of those enrolling mid-year.
To pull that off, Muschamp said at his bowl preview press conference that the players need to be organized and up on their academics. And schools need to graduate players to make room under the 85-scholarship limit.
Signing day pickup … and losses
It didn’t take very long for the Gamecocks to add a new pickup in CB Johnny Dixon of Tampa, Fla. He’s a 3-star prospect and a top 50 player from the Sunshine State. The Gamecocks beat out Miami even after he took a recent official visit with the Hurricanes.
On the other hand, South Carolina lost out on OL Matthew Bedford of Memphis, who signed with Indiana, and Florida signee LB Tyron Hopper of Roswell, Ga.