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Linemen, Linebackers Help Cushion Severe Lack Of Skill, Depth

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

By Phil Kornblut
Columbia (S.C.) State

August 27, 2005

Many of the top prospects in South Carolina have followed a growing national trend and made early decisions regarding their college football futures. No fewer than 13 of the state's top 20 seniors made commitments this spring and summer.

That means there's already not much major college talent left in the Palmetto State, in yet another year that's not expected to produce an abundance of Division I-A prospects.

South Carolina ranked last by a wide margin in 2005 among the six core ACC area states, with only 30 I-A signees compared to the relatively large numbers posted by Maryland/D.C. (50-plus), Virginia (50-plus), North Carolina (60-plus), Georgia (150-plus) and Florida (300-plus). Even the two Virginia-based prep schools, Hargrave Military Academy and Fork Union Military Academy, combined last year to produce more I-A signees (35-plus) than the land of the Tigers and the Gamecocks.

It's also a year of the non-skilled player in South Carolina, at least as far as the elite prospects are concerned. Only one skill-position player is ranked among the state's top 10 seniors, and there are just four in the top 20.

Linemen and linebackers make up the bulk of the Palmetto State's best in 2005, led by one of the most heavily recruited offensive linemen in the country, a player who has the bloodlines to extend his career to the highest level.

Clifton Geathers of Georgetown Carvers Bay is the next in a long line of talented football players from his family. His brother currently plays in the NFL, and his father and uncle both had NFL careers. Clifton has more than 50 offers and has not narrowed his list.

"He has great hand speed, and he moves his feet all the time," Carvers Bay coach James Thompson said. "That's what separates him."

A great head-on-head matchup would be Geathers and Columbia Richland Northeast defensive lineman Adam Patterson.

"(Patterson is) quick off the ball," Richland Northeast coach Jay Frye said, "and he has good strength."

As a junior, Patterson posted 57 tackles, six sacks, six tackles for loss, and 10 quarterback hurries. He benches 350 pounds and squats over 500. He has cut his list to a top 10 and plans to trim it to five by September.

"I want to take my time," Patterson said. "I'm keeping myself open and not letting myself lean any way."

Bamberg-Ehrhardt defensive end Ricky Sapp committed in the spring to Clemson, over South Carolina, N.C. State, Tennessee, LSU, Nebraska, Oklahoma and others. As a junior, he rolled up 67 tackles (27 for loss) and 11 sacks.

"I'll fit in real well with (Clemson's) schemes," Sapp said.

"He's a good pass rusher off the edge," Bamberg-Ehrhardt coach Ron Duncan said. "He has a tremendous upside."

Also Clemson-bound is defensive back Byron Maxwell of North Charleston Fort Dorchester. He had 60 tackles and five interceptions last season. Unfortunately, nobody will be able to see Maxwell on the field this fall. He tore an ACL in his knee while playing pickup basketball early this summer. He had surgery to repair the injury and should be totally recovered by the 2006 season.

Georgia continues to recruit South Carolina hard, and the Bulldogs already have acquired commitments from a pair of top-10 prospects, defensive back Prince Miller of Duncan Byrnes and receiver Ronnie Tyler of Wagener-Salley. Miller, who had six interceptions last season, picked the Bulldogs over Florida State and Tennessee. Tyler, who rushed for 1,113 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2004 as a tailback and wide receiver, committed in the spring to Georgia after attending camp in Athens.

"(Miller is) very physical, can run, jump, throw and catch," Byrnes coach Bobby Bentley said. "He can do it all. He can cover, and he can tackle. He's as good as I've ever had."

"(Tyler) has great vision," Wagener-Salley coach Steve DeRiggs said, "and he's very explosive with great hands."

Anderson Hanna defensive tackle Ben Alexander also will be leaving the state. A spring commitment for Texas, he is the first high school football player from South Carolina in at least 20 years to accept a football scholarship from the Longhorns. Alexander had 77 tackles and 22 sacks as a junior.

"He's explosive," Hanna coach Scott Parker said, "with unbelievable strength."

Offensive lineman Garrett Anderson of Irmo Dutch Fork and linebacker Rodney Paulk of Columbia Richland Northeast gave South Carolina two commitments from the in-state top-10 list. Anderson, who is just 16 years old and is expected to grow several more inches, picked the Gamecocks over Clemson and Virginia Tech.

"The biggest thing is something big is about to happen (at South Carolina)," Anderson said. "Coach Spurrier is going to do some incredible things."

Paulk is another 16-year-old prospect who chose to stay close to home. Last season he made 105 tackles (14 for losses), four sacks and 20 quarterback hurries.

"He's a big hitter," Frye said, "and he makes plays from sideline to sideline."

Speedy safety Darius Gaither of Winnsboro Fairfield Central is taking his recruiting slowly. He said he has no favorites among his offers, and he doesn't plan to announce a decision until national signing day in February. Gaither had 67 tackles with seven interceptions and 10 passes broken up last season. He also averaged 27 yards on punt returns with three scores, and he returned two kickoffs for touchdowns.

"Everybody loves his speed," Fairfield Central coach Reggie Kennedy said, "and his size."

South Aiken linebacker/end Dekoda Watson has four offers but is looking for more, with South Carolina and Auburn apparently interested in offering him. Watson is an excellent pass rusher who rang up 15 sacks along with 102 tackles and 44 tackles for loss in 2004.

"He's a great athlete and works at trying to get better," South Aiken coach Dan Pippen said. "He's a good pass rusher, and he's good against the run."

A kicker generally has to be special to break into a top 20 list, and Richard Jackson of Greer Riverside definitely meets the requirement. He converted nine of 14 field goal attempts last season, with a long of 50 yards, and he was true from 57 yards at a camp last spring. He committed to Clemson in July over offers from LSU, Texas A&M, Maryland and Georgia.

"I've been around Clemson and this area my entire life," Jackson said. "My heart said that's where you should be."

Jackson's teammate, quarterback Michael Wade, also is Clemson-bound. He committed to the Tigers in the summer as well, after impressing new offensive coordinator Rob Spence with his performance at camp. Wade, whose father was a member of Clemson's 1981 national championship team, passed for 1,388 yards and nine touchdowns last fall.

"Coach Spence is going to be a great coach and mentor," Wade said. "I'm pretty elusive, and I think he's looking for somebody who can get out of jams and still be able to throw the ball."

South Aiken defensive lineman Ben Anderson was the state's first prospect to make a commitment, picking Georgia Tech in the spring after making an unofficial visit to the Atlanta campus. He had a big junior season, with 122 tackles (28 for loss) and six sacks. He benches 405 pounds and squats 460.

"He has great hands and feet for a defensive lineman," Pippen said. "He plugs holes well."

Gaffney High linebacker Julius Wilkerson had a monster junior season, with 151 tackles (nine for loss) and two sacks. He committed to Clemson this summer, jumping on the first official scholarship offer he received.

"It's the right place for me," Wilkerson said. "They run the same scheme we run. I think I'll fit in next year."

"He gets to the football," Gaffney coach Phil Strickland said. "He can get through a crease. He brings his hips and rocks a head when he hits them."

Columbia Richland Northeast safety Calvin Harrison is SEC-bound, after committing to Kentucky in the spring. He totaled 77 tackles last season, with nine passes broken up and two interceptions.

"I want to play early," Harrison said, "and I feel like I can fit in with their defensive scheme."

"He's our best cover guy, with tremendous hands," Frye said. "He can play safety or corner."

Anderson Westside wide receiver Moe Brown was not very well-known around the state until he committed to South Carolina in July. He had attended camp at USC, where he impressed receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. Brown caught 46 passes last season.

"He catches the ball in different ways – behind him, in front of him. His concentration is tremendous," Westside coach Ted Luckadoo said. "He runs his routes very precisely."

Greenville High wide receiver Lamarckus Boswell has the good fortune of playing in a pass-happy offense with good quarterbacks. Last season he grabbed a whopping 131 passes for more than 2,000 yards and 25 touchdowns. Kentucky is his only offer thus far, as most schools want to watch him and his grades this season.

"He has great hands and changes directions in his routes well," said Larry Frost, his former coach. "If it's close to him, he's going to catch it. And he makes great decisions on running with the football."

Hemingway High defensive end Sterling Blunt was spotted by Virginia Tech in the spring, and the Hokies liked him enough to offer. After posting 136 tackles and 8.5 sacks last season, he will be scouted closely early this fall, as other schools make final decisions on him. Blunt, who still lists Tech as his favorite, also plays for the Hemingway basketball team.

"He wanted to commit (to the Hokies), but I wanted him to hold off," Hemingway coach Ken Cribb said. "He has real good feet."

Bennettsville Marlboro County defensive end Jason Ayers is the brother of Tennessee linebacker Robert Ayers, and though he's not drawing the recruiting attention of his brother, he will have some options to deal with at the end of the season. Ayers, who played middle linebacker in 2004 but will shift to end this fall, had 116 tackles and five sacks last season.

"He has a nose for the football and is very athletic," Marlboro County coach Dean Boyd said. "He has good speed off the corner, and he comes off the edge well."




SOUTH CAROLINA'S TOP 30

No. Name Pos. Ht./Wt. High School College Favorites
1. Clifton Geathers OL/DT 6-7/280 Georgetown Carvers Bay USC, Clem., Ga., LSU, Tenn.*
2. Adam Patterson DT/DE 6-2/260 Columbia Richland NE USC, VT, Aub., NCSU, Okla.
3. Ben Alexander DT 6-0/285 Anderson Hanna TEXAS
4. Prince Miller DB 5-9/185 Duncan Byrnes GEORGIA
5. Ricky Sapp DE 6-4/225 Bamberg-Ehrhardt High CLEMSON
6. Darius Gaither DB 6-0/195 Winnsboro Fairfield Clem., USC, NCSU, UNC, Wake*
7. Byron Maxwell DB 6-0/180 North Charleston Ft. Dorchester CLEMSON
8. Rodney Paulk LB 6-0/205 Columbia Richland NE SOUTH CAROLINA
9. Garrett Anderson OL 6-4/265 Irmo Dutch Fork SOUTH CAROLINA
10. Ronnie Tyler RB 5-10/170 Wagener Salley GEORGIA
11. Dekoda Watson LB 6-2/210 Aiken South Aub., Ga., UNC, Ky., Md.*
12. Richard Jackson PK 5-11/180 Greer Riverside CLEMSON
13. Michael Wade QB 6-2/185 Greer Riverside CLEMSON
14. Ben Anderson DT 6-1/260 Aiken South GEORGIA TECH
15. Julius Wilkerson LB 6-2/200 Gaffney High CLEMSON
16. Donkay Degraffenreid DB 5-10/185 Rock Hill High Tenn., VT, FSU, NCSU, USC*
17. Jason Ayers LB/DE 6-3/225 Bennettsville Marlboro Co. Tenn., NCSU, Clem., VT*
18. Calvin Harrison DB 6-0/180 Columbia Richland Northeast KENTUCKY
19. Moe Brown WR 5-11/175 Anderson Westside SOUTH CAROLINA
20. Lamarckus Boswell WR 5-10/165 Greenville High Ky., Clem., USC, UNC, ND*
21. Sterling Blunt TE/DE 6-4/250 Hemingway High VT, USC, Md.*
22. Tori Childers WR 6-5/215 Rock Hill High USC, Tenn., UNC, Mich.*
23. B.J. Phillips QB 6-5/230 Columbia Spring Valley Ky., UNC, Md., Vandy, Rut.*
24. Brian Bradford WR/DB 5-11/175 Bennettsville Marlboro Co. UNC, NCSU, USC, Clem.*
25. Kenny Scott DT 6-3/310 Anderson Hanna LSU, GT, Vandy, Duke*
26. Steven Goulet WR 6-2/180 Irmo Dutch Fork Vandy, WVU, Temple, Duke*
27. Ameer Salahudin DB 5-10/180 Anderson Hanna Md., UNC, NCSU, Clem., USC*
28. Nick Prochak QB 6-4/215 Spartanburg High Clem., USC, Md., Ga.*
29. Jake Johnson OL 6-4/335 Hartsville High USC, Clem., Tenn., UNC, Ga.*
30. Racheed Gause LB/DB 5-10/215 Conway High VT, Clem., USC*

NOTE: Preseason player rankings by the ACC Sports Journal.
* – also considering other schools