By Phil Kornblut, South Carolina News Network
August 25, 2003
Large Linemen Among Top Prospects In Particularly Deep ClassCOLUMBIA It's not quite The Land of the Giants, but the football fields in South Carolina are teeming with some very large people this season. It's definitely a lineman's year in the Palmetto State, with eight of the state's top 15 prospects taking up positions on one side of the line or the other. It's also a good year for linebackers and receivers, while it's relatively thin at quarterback and running back. Overall, this stands to be one of the most bountiful crops of major college prospects ever in South Carolina, with more than 30 players likely to sign with Division I-A programs in February.
The best of the big men, and the player deemed the top prospect in the state by most analysts, is offensive lineman Leon Hart of Columbia Spring Valley. Hart is very strong (350-pound bench, 515 squat) and a good pass blocker, with great feet and strong hips. He has more than 20 scholarship offers, and from that group he is focusing on USC, Clemson, Florida, Ohio State, Penn State and Virginia. He attended summer camp with the Gamecocks, whose campus is located about 10 minutes from his home. A solid student, he has a 3.1 GPA and a 940 SAT score.
If I had to make a decision today, I would sign with South Carolina, Hart said. I'm very comfortable with the coaches and players there, and it's close to home. But I want to take my official visits. Then I'll think it over and make a decision.
Linebacker Robert Ayers of Bennettsville Marlboro County is considered by many the top defender in the state. He had 102 tackles and 12 sacks in only eight games last season. He hasn't narrowed his list much from a long line of offers, but he said USC, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Maryland, Ohio State and Tennessee are among the schools that remain in contention for his services. His former teammate, prep All-American quarterback Syvelle Newton, signed with the Gamecocks in February.
Robert has great speed and a nose for the football, Marlboro County coach Dean Boyd said. He likes (USC defensive coordinator Chris Cosh) a lot. I would think he would consider USC. But he wants to see how things turn out for Syvelle.
Lawrence Timmons of Florence Wilson, rated the No. 1 jumbo athlete in the nation by SuperPrep, is liked by various schools at wide receiver, linebacker or defensive end. He had 47 catches for 690 yards and 14 touchdowns last season to go along with 95 tackles. He said he has no favorite but has been indicating a desire to leave the state. Among the top possibilities are Florida, Georgia, Miami, Michigan, Tennessee and Virginia. All but the Hurricanes have extended a scholarship offer.
I don't have anything against the in-state schools, but I'm not somebody who grew up as a fan (of Clemson or USC), Timmons said. I want to go somewhere I can play early, and I want to go to a school that can win the national championship.
Greenville High offensive lineman Cory Lambert is the largest of the state's top prospects. He benches 370 pounds, squats 405 and had 38 knockdown blocks as a junior. Clemson and USC are his favorites and likely will battle for him all season. Alabama, Georgia and Maryland also remain involved. Entering his senior year, Lambert's academic credentials are close to NCAA minimums.
He can be overpowering, Greenville coach Larry Frost said.
Clemson is closer to home, a lot of my friends go there, and I would be able to play early, Lambert said. (USC) is pretty close, too, and they have Lou Holtz. He'd be a great coach to take me to the next level. I really like both (in-state) programs. It's close.
Beaufort Battery Creek defensive lineman Dorian Capers committed in the spring to USC over Clemson. He was an all-state player as a junior after totaling 77 tackles and four sacks. He benches 325 pounds, squats 475 and power cleans 250. He attended summer camps at Clemson, USC and N.C. State.
I always wanted to play for South Carolina, Capers said. That's my home team. I like the coaches and players, and it's close to home. It's the perfect place for me.
Mack Frost mans a defensive end spot at Columbia Spring Valley, and he was a stopper last season, with 90 tackles and five sacks. He's very athletic and a good pass rusher. He benches 285 pounds and squats 425, and he runs the 40-yard dash in 4.7 seconds. His offer list includes Auburn, Clemson, Duke, Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, UNC, USC, Vanderbilt, Virginia and Wake Forest. He has a 3.3 GPA and a 1,080 SAT score.
I'm only considering schools with very strong academics, and that will be a big factor in my decision, Frost said. After that, I'll be looking at the place where I have the best relationships with the head coach, my position coach and the other players.
Gaffney High wide receiver Sidney Rice is a two-sport talent who also stands out on the hardwood. He had 57 catches for 897 yards and seven touchdowns as a sophomore and 38 catches for 735 yards and 11 scores last season. Rice committed to USC during his junior season, then backed off that pledge in August, saying he was unhappy with the way the Gamecocks handled the delayed enrollment of 2003 signee Curtis Rice. Sidney said he now likes Clemson, Florida, Georgia, Syracuse (offer) and Tennessee (offer), although USC (offer) isn't completely out of the picture.
I'm going to take some official visits and then make a decision, Rice said. I'm kind of starting over again with the recruiting process. I'm going to take some time to learn about some of these other schools and then make a final decision.
Rock Hill Northwestern standout C.J. Barber is the best of the state's defensive backs. He had 55 tackles and six interceptions last season. He said there's no favorite, but he's a close friend of junior college defensive back Jonathan Joseph, who has committed to USC. Barber has early offers from the Gamecocks, Clemson, Georgia and Tennessee.
I want to be a new breed of safety, said Barber, who added about 20 pounds of muscle in the offseason. I'm big enough to be a linebacker but fast enough to be a defensive back, and I hit very hard. I'm trying to be the total package.
Anderson Hanna running back Rafael Little rushed for 1,250 yards and 20 touchdowns as a junior. He also had more than 600 yards and eight TDs as a receiver, plus five scores on returns. He plays outside linebacker on defense. He attended summer camps at Clemson (30 minutes from home), Georgia and Kentucky.
He's a power runner who lowers his shoulder and runs through tacklers, Hanna coach Scott Parker said.
One of the state's most exciting players is receiver Kendrick Lynch of Spartanburg Dorman. He also plays running back, and last year he rushed for 1,356 yards and 17 touchdowns. During his sophomore season, when he played mainly as a wideout, he had 52 catches for 1,117 yards and 15 scores. He committed to USC in April after getting early interest from Clemson, Georgia Tech, Iowa, Kentucky, UNC and Tennessee.
When he touches the ball, Dorman coach David Gutshall said, it's hold your breath.
Another top offensive lineman is James Thompson of Sumter High. He grew up rooting for the Gamecocks, and the USC campus is just 30 minutes from his home. He continues to list the Columbia school as his favorite, but he said he's also considering Georgia, UNC (offer), Florida and Virginia. Thompson also has offers from Clemson and ECU. He benches 400 pounds, squats 460 and has a 900-plus SAT score.
I'm pretty sure I want to go to South Carolina, but I want to take official visits to some of my other favorites and see what they have to offer, Thompson said. I don't think I'll change my mind, but I wouldn't be going through the process if I didn't think there was a chance I could change my mind.
Blythewood Ridge View defensive tackle Dorell Scott smothers the inside game, according to his coach Kirk Burnett. Scott had 78 tackles and five sacks last year. He's favoring Clemson and USC, with Georgia and UNC close behind. Former Tigers receiver Jeff Scott is in his first year as the quarterbacks coach at Ridge View, and his father Brad recruits the school for Clemson.
I like both (Clemson and USC), but I'm open to other schools, too Scott said. If it turns out that one of the in-state schools is the best fit for me, that's great. If not, that's OK too. I'm still learning a lot about some of the other schools on my list.
Receiver Brooks Foster of Spartanburg Boiling Springs also is a basketball recruit, and some schools are dangling both sports in an effort to win his affection. He has Kentucky (offer) and Georgia at the top of his list, followed by UNC (offer), Clemson (offer) and Wake Forest (offer). He also has offers from Duke, Maryland, USC and Vanderbilt in football, and from Davidson, Mercer and Western Carolina in basketball. On the gridiron, he had 35 catches for 500 yards and eight touchdowns last season. An outstanding student, he has a 3.8 GPA and a 21 ACT score.
I know it's hard to do and it's a rare thing, but I want to try to play both (sports) wherever I go, Foster said. I think I'm a better football player right now. But as I develop in basketball, I think I'll get better and maybe even be a better basketball player eventually. Basketball is my true love.
Defensive end Jamon Meredith of Simpsonville Hillcrest played mostly offensive tackle last season and also plays tight end. He committed to USC (only camp) over Clemson in July and remains firm with the pledge. He benches 350 pounds and squats 460. He has a 3.8 GPA and an 1,150 SAT score.
I thought about where I'd want to be if something happened and I couldn't play football anymore, Meredith said. I already liked everything about the (USC) football program. When I thought about the other things and my answer was the same, I knew it was time to make a decision. Now I'll be able to enjoy my senior year without having to worry about recruiting.
Bamberg Ehrhardt DT Matt Raysor, a former fullback who is making the full-time transition to the defensive line this fall, became one of the state's earliest Class of 2004 commitments in April when he chose South Carolina (childhood favorite) over interest from Georgia, Georgia Tech, Maryland and Nebraska. He had 56 tackles last season. He benches 275 pounds, squats 495 and runs the 40 in 4.8 seconds.
Allendale Fairfax LB Courtney Vincent, who grew up a big USC fan, committed to Clemson in June over an offer from South Carolina State and interest from Florida, Georgia, Georgia Tech and Virginia. He attended camps at both in-state schools but did not receive an offer from the Gamecocks. A first-team Class 2A all-state selection as a junior, he had more than 100 tackles, four sacks and two interceptions for a 7-5 team. He runs the 40 in 4.7 seconds. He has a 2.4 GPA and still needs a qualifying SAT score.
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