By Phil Kornblut, South Carolina News Network
August 23, 2004
Skill Players Cushion Shortage Of Quarterbacks, Linemen, DepthCOLUMBIA After producing a bountiful crop of major college recruits last season, the fields appear barer around South Carolina in 2004.
There are still some very good prospects roaming around the state, which produced 35 players for Bowl Championship Series conferences last year and more than 40 Division I-A signees overall. There just are not as many of them. The state may be devoid of a true, major college quarterback talent, and the numbers aren't much better along the offensive and defensive lines.
On the other hand, the receiving group will be strong this fall, with three who rank among the best in the country. There also are three 2,000-yard rushers returning among the running backs. Here and there, you can find a major linebacker or defensive back recruit as well.
All in all, though, for a small state that prides itself on producing more than its share of major college signees, this looks like a down year in South Carolina.
Major college recruiters nevertheless will beat the bushes in the Palmetto State, in part because of the reputation the state has developed for producing quality players. High school prospects from South Carolina are deemed to be among the best-schooled in the country in the finer points of the sport, and that's because of the level of coaching they receive. From the all-time winningest football coach at any level, Summerville High's John McKissick, to the rookie head coach at the state's smallest level, most high school coaches in South Carolina pay great attention to detail and preparation. The result often is a football player who if talented enough is ready to produce at the collegiate level.
North Augusta High receiver C.J. Byrd heads the list of prospects in the state and is, in fact, one of the nation's best. He had 36 catches for 567 yards and two touchdowns last season. As a defensive back, he had 92 tackles and two interceptions. From a list of 33 scholarship offers, Byrd has cut his list to Clemson, Georgia, Florida, Florida State and Southern Cal.
I really feel I can't go wrong with any of the five, Byrd said. I'm going to check out a lot of games at these five schools this fall, and that will play a large part in my final decision.
Another top skill player is Rendrick Taylor of Bennettsville Marlboro County. A big, strong, physical receiver, he's coming off a season of 28 catches for 891 yards and 11 touchdowns. He committed to Clemson early in the summer, choosing the Tigers over 15 other offers, although he said he still plans to take other official visits this fall. A strong student, he hopes to graduate in December and enroll at Clemson in January.
I like the offense, Taylor said. I think I'll fit right in.
He gets the job done, Marlboro County coach Dean Boyd said.
Running back Mike Davis of Columbia High is arguably the best back in the state. He had an impressive junior season, with 2,127 yards and 20 touchdowns. He also plays linebacker and had 47 tackles and two interceptions last season. Davis camped at Clemson, USC and North Carolina this summer.
He might be the best player I've ever coached, Capitals coach Kemper Amick said. If there's a better running back, I don't want to play against him.
Conway High receiver Eric Huggins became the first high school player from South Carolina to commit to Oklahoma when he did so early in the summer. A former Conway player, defensive back Allen Patrick, also committed to Oklahoma this summer, but he did so as a junior college prospect. Huggins had 52 catches for 932 yards and 14 touchdowns last season.
They are a good throwing team, and they are good academically, Huggins said of the Sooners. They are always playing in bowl games and going to the championship every year.
Conway High defensive end Hivera Green also is planning to leave the state. His current favorite is Michigan, and he also likes Florida State and Virginia Tech. He had 63 tackles and five sacks last season.
I like they way (Michigan plays), Green said, and I like the big crowds.
Manning High linebacker Josh Miller ended his recruiting in early August, committing to Clemson over FSU. He also had offers from South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia Tech, among others. Miller rushed for 1,160 yards last fall as a tailback and will continue to play both ways in 2004.
It feels great, man, Miller said of his commitment. I don't have to worry about nothing in my senior year.
Clemson also is the destination of Belton-Honea Path offensive lineman Barry Hum-phries, who became the first pledge for the Tigers' 2005 class back in the spring. He also had offers from Maryland, North Carolina, Marshall, Vanderbilt and Wake Forest. Humphries has started since his freshman season and was all-state as a junior.
He has great feet and is a finesse blocker, BHP coach Wayne Green said.
Sumter Lakewood running back J.C. Neal rushed for 900 yards and 10 touchdowns last season after moving over from quarterback, and he also stood out as a free safety. Neal favors N.C. State, Virginia Tech and Maryland among his 13 offers.
He's a game-breaker with a good kick, Lakewood coach Greg Crolley said.
The state's leading returning rusher is Travil Jamison of Greenville High. He blistered defenses last season for 2,406 yards and 33 touchdowns. Jamison has not identified a favorite, but he's interested in both in-state programs, among others.
He keeps his shoulders parallel to the goal line every play and is very difficult to bring down, Greenville coach Larry Frost said. He's got great breakaway speed and vision.
Jamie Robinson of Rock Hill Northwestern is a lock-down corner who has had 16 interceptions over the past two seasons, including nine last year. He broke up 20 other passes last season and had 50 tackles. He also can play receiver. Robinson is favoring Florida State over Clemson and USC.
Clemson-bound offensive lineman Thomas Austin of Camden High is an excellent student of football, very easy to coach and a hard worker, said his coach, Jimmy Neal. Austin also is a state wrestling champion. He picked the Tigers over Auburn and Vanderbilt.
Defensive back Antavious Coates of Greenwood High wasn't that highly regarded following his junior season, but he impressed scouts in the spring and the offers began to roll in. He committed to Georgia in July. Coates had 30 tackles and two interceptions last season. As a receiver, he had 30 catches for 350 yards and three touchdowns.
He's a very physical player, a great hitter, Greenwood coach Shell Dula said. He can take a kid's head off when he tackles.
Sumter Crestwood linebacker Damien Wright will play his college football at USC, having committed to the Gamecocks in July over Clemson and Vanderbilt. A projected safety at the college level, Wright recorded 115 tackles and five sacks last season.
He has great speed and closes well, Crestwood coach Keith Crolley said. He plays the run and pass equally well. He's a player with no glaring weakness.
Mullins High offensive lineman Jamarcus Grant also plays on the defensive side, where he made 37 tackles and five sacks last season. Grant has a big frame and carries his weight well. He committed to Clemson early in the summer over USC.
Receiver Freddie Brown of Duncan Byrnes also is a basketball prospect, and he hopes to play both sports in college. His numbers are impressive in both sports. He had 86 catches for 1,500 yards over the last two football seasons, and he averaged 26 points and 10 assists per basketball game last year. Brown
(6-3, 205) could get bigger. He has an uncle who is 6-9 and a great uncle who is 7-0. He has no favorite right now for football or basketball.
Nathan Pepper of Greenville High is a versatile prospect who can play defensive end, quarterback, tight end and deep snapper. He has offers from Kentucky and Duke and plenty of other ACC and SEC interest. Pepper is at his best as a pass rusher in the mind of his coach, Larry Frost.
He comes off the edge as well as anyone I have ever coached, Frost said.
Pageland Central running back Sadat Chambers made people sit up and take notice last year in the Class 2A state championship game, when he rushed for 202 yards. For the season, he gained 1,031 yards and scored 10 touchdowns.
He has unbelievable quickness, Central coach Joey Mangum said, and great explosion in his first step.
Mychal Belcher of Spartanburg Dorman will be the Cavaliers' quarterback again this season, but when he moves on to USC next fall, his main job will be to intercept passes, not complete them. Belcher committed to the Gamecocks in July, and though he might get a look behind center in Columbia, the Gamecocks expect him to play in the secondary. Belcher passed for 2,000 yards and rushed for 500 last season.
Defensive back Michael Washington of Allendale-Fairfax is a big-time hitter in the secondary. He had 75 tackles and four sacks last season. Clemson and USC are his two favorites, but after toying with the idea of an early commitment, Washington recently decided to wait until later in the season.
Goose Creek Stratford defensive back Haydrian Lewis impressed the Clemson coaching staff at a camp following his sophomore season. So much so, the Tigers offered at that point. They maintained their interest in him through last season, and their efforts were rewarded with a commitment from Lewis in July.
He's very physical and competes hard, Stratford coach Ray Stackley said. He is tough and hard-nosed, with good cover skills.
Wagener-Salley athlete Channing Scho-field selected Wake over South Carolina and Vanderbilt. Clemson (childhood favorite), Florida, Georgia, Maryland, N.C. State and Virginia also showed interest.
A tailback, receiver and defensive back at Wagener-Salley, Schofield rushed for 1,018 yards and 11 touchdowns as a junior and more than 800 yards as a sophomore. In Winston-Salem he hopes to play cornerback, where he posted 52 tackles and four interceptions last fall. Also a standout baseball player, he batted .391 with 30 stolen bases last season. A Wake summer camper, Schofield benches 250 pounds, runs the 40 in 4.5 seconds and has a vertical leap of 32 inches. He has a 3.0 GPA but has not yet posted an ACT or SAT score.