NCF On The Trail: South Carolina Gamecocks

Boston College coach Steve Addazio remembers an era when players wanted to redshirt as true freshmen to better prepare them for the final four years of their college career.

"Now it's 'I want to play,' " Addazio, 55, said. "If you're talking about not playing them early, the majority are like 'What do you mean?'"

So, the ability to play or possibly even start as a true freshman has become a regular sales pitch for coaches from the Power Five to the Group of Five. It's certainly a tool in the belt for Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher. Last week, Fisher alluded to the number of freshmen All-Americans he's coached the last four seasons. Twenty-four hours later, it was on the program's official recruiting Twitter page.

"The last [four] years we've had 14 freshmen All-Americans," said Fisher, condensing multiple outlets' freshmen award teams into one, concise Florida State propaganda poster. "If you come in ready to play, we're willing to put you on the field. It's critical for guys to come in saying 'When I'm the best, I'll play.'"

Fisher has the goods to back up his claims, even if the numbers are obviously skewed to best represent his program. But how does his résumé compare to those coaching some of the country's other top programs?

I tried to come up with a way to accurately discern which schools play the most freshmen and decided true freshmen letterwinners was the simplest and most effective way to crunch the numbers. To earn a letter, a player has to actually play consistently through the season. The disclaimer is each program can use different benchmarks when awarding letters, but there is never going to be a perfect way.

I began with Florida State's, looking back at the 2011-2013 classes. To properly quantify the data from Florida State, I decided I'd look at the five schools ranked highest in the preseason polls that have had its coach in place at least five seasons. Oregon's Mark Helfrich was offered an exemption because he was promoted from within and is in his sixth season with the Ducks. Coaches in place at least five years was the stipulation since an incoming coach might be susceptible to playing the prospects he recruited or having a number of transfers that could open up starting or rotational spots.

The criteria: Each class was looked at and the total number of signees was pared down to just those who enrolled as members of the football team in the fall. Junior college signees were excluded, as were any recruits who were academically or medically disqualified before playing a game. That explains why the total number of freshmen for our purposes might look different than what might be seen on RecruitingNation. Any true freshmen who spent a year at a post-graduate or prep school was also excluded. Redshirt freshmen were disqualified, too.

Bottom line is if the player was not a part of the football team the fall following his high school graduation, he was excluded.

Nearly all of the data was collected after poring through media guides and archives, although the communications departments at some of the schools were also helpful providing numbers and deserve recognition.

So, here is the actual data:

 

It is hardly a coincidence that Fisher and Alabama's Nick Saban, who mentored Fisher at LSU, have identical percentages of true freshmen earning a letter. Fisher and Saban arguably have been the two best recruiters over the last few cycles, and, the data shows those two are not going to keep young talent off the field simply because of age. Nearly half of the true freshmen at Alabama and Florida State lettered over the last three seasons.

Mark Dantonio has built Michigan State into a national title contender in a different manor, relying on experience. Only 12 percent of true freshmen lettered over the last three seasons. Recruiting to Michigan State is not the easy task it is at some other top-10 programs, and the Spartans are not recruiting as many ESPN 300-level players as the likes of Alabama and Florida State.

It should be noted Michigan State, Oklahoma and Oregon don't have quite the recruiting base Alabama and Florida State do.

Inquiring minds want to see how that 45 percent stacks up to some of the other top programs in the country, so even though they did not fit the criteria I looked at a few other schools with coaches in place at least five seasons and lately in the top half of the rankings. LSU was worth a look considering it's Les Miles' 10th season in Baton Rouge and, like Fisher and Saban, has recruited exceptionally well for a long period of time. Mark Richt is in his 14th season at Georgia and, like Miles, usually has a highly-regarded recruiting class. Steve Spurrier is in his 10th season at South Carolina and has steadily improved the Gamecocks' class to the point that the 2015 class is No. 5 nationally. Dabo Swinney has turned Clemson from a perennial disappointment into a two-time BCS bowl participant. And Ohio State and Texas A&M, mainly because it's worth seeing how third-year Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer fares considering he frequently voices his preference to avoid redshirting. Kevin Sumlin is also in the process of trying to build an SEC power that can compete with Alabama and LSU in the SEC West.

 

For the Buckeyes, out of the 69 true freshmen to land in Columbus, Ohio, from 2011-2013, 31 lettered -- the same 45 percent. Looking at just Meyer's two seasons, however, he is decimals ahead of Fisher and Saban at 46 percent (21 out of 46), thanks in large part to 14 freshmen letterwinners in his first season.

Georgia's Mark Richt has a percentage of nearly 50 percent, but the Bulldogs' numbers might be the most skewed. Along with South Carolina, the Bulldogs had several recruits that either did not qualify or spent time at a prep school or junior college. Also, Georgia's long list of dismissals and transfers is well documented, and all of the departures has opened up spots for freshmen to earn immediate playing time.

It is Miles, though, who plays a higher percentage of freshmen than all of the others. Twelve true freshmen lettered for LSU in both 2012 and 2013, and another nine earned a letter in 2011. There were a total of 65 applicable freshmen to enter LSU during that span and 33 of them lettered. That's a percentage of 51 percent.

Certainly the numbers will fluctuate year to year, and coaches at every single program are playing freshmen more frequently than ever before. When taking into account the timeline is over three years, LSU averages just one more freshman letterwinner per season than Alabama and Florida State. For our intents and purposes, though, the data shows which top programs consistently play the most freshmen in this new era of freshmen phenoms.

And, uh, FYI, Alabama has 19 ESPN 300 players prepping for their freshmen season this fall. LSU has 16, and Florida State isn't far off with 13 of their own.
The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting news across the country. Today’s offerings: A look at how landing Trenton Thompson could help Georgia land even more highly coveted players and who might be next to join the Dawgs' commitment list. Plus, Alabama has the top-ranked class by far, but there's something that could loosen the Tide's grip on No. 1, and our daily tour of the top recruiting happenings on social media.

You can sign all the four- and five-star recruits in the world, but none of that matters if you're not able to fill your needs. RecruitingNation takes a look at 2015 recruits who most fill the needs of each of the SEC schools.


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South Carolina continues to add highly touted pieces to its offensive line. After Christian Pellage's decision on Friday, in-state prospect Zack Bailey committed Monday morning:


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The South Carolina Gamecocks have a new, top offensive commit in Christian Pellage. Read on to see what the future holds for the Under Armour All-American:


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Apparently you can have your cake and eat it too. At least that's what the NCAA is saying to South Carolina.

The South Carolina Gamecocks self-reported 22 potential minor NCAA infractions, one of which involved cookie cakes given to recruits visiting campus and what South Carolina believed to be impermissible icing on the cakes.

The NCAA reviewed the submission and decided there was no violation by the Gamecocks.

To continue reading, click here.

ESPN 300: SEC's must-get recruits 

July, 30, 2014
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The SEC already has commitments from 77 prospects in the ESPN 300, but there are still several key targets available. Whether it's a current commit, a position of need or just the best available player, here is a look at the top must-get recruits for each SEC team.


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Early Offer: 2016 targets come off board
The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today’s offerings: It’s been said recruits are committing sooner than ever before and the recent run of pledges in the 2016 class proves to some that an early signing period is needed now more than ever. Plus, if you want to know how competitive it is to recruit in the Southeast, just check out the up-and-down two weeks the Florida Gators have had on the recruiting trail.

It’s never too early
Signing day for the Class of 2016 isn’t for another 555 days, but that hasn’t stopped a high number of ESPN Junior 300 prospects from making early decisions. In the last eight days alone, seven of the best players in next year’s class committed, and overall 47 of the top 300 prospects have made their decisions.

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South Carolina is currently rolling and building a top-10 class in 2015, and on July 26 got their 2016 class off to a terrific start, picking up a verbal pledge from versatile ESPN Junior 300 prospect Kyle Davis.


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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today's offerings: As the nation's No. 2 player, five-star offensive tackle Martez Ivey has a lot of people pulling him in a lot of different directions. But when it comes time to make a decision, Ivey knows whom he can count on. Plus, Steve Spurrier has taken plenty of shots at Alabama and Nick Saban during the offseason, but Tuesday at SEC media days he called Saban a "recruiter for the ages."

Ivey won't let distractions get in the way
[+] EnlargeMartez Ivey
Tom Hauck for Student SportsMartez Ivey, the No. 2 overall prospect in the ESPN 300, is seriously considering Auburn and Florida.
Martez Ivey says he gets around 25 phone messages a day from college coaches, reporters and even fans hounding him about what the latest is with his recruitment. Ivey also used words like "crazy" and "impossible" to describe how he feels about the process. But the 6-foot-6, 268-pound five-star offensive tackle said there are a few people he can count on to help him make the final decision.

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An early signing period can’t get here soon enough.

In fact, a number of SEC teams are recruiting as if it already exists.

On Tuesday, Auburn played catch-up with its league brethren by gaining its 16th and 17th total commitments of the 2015 class in four-star offensive lineman Tyler Carr and three-star tight end Jalen Harris. Still, Gus Malzahn’s group trails Alabama (19), South Carolina (19), Mississippi State (18), Tennessee (18) and Texas A&M (18) in terms of its total verbal pledges.

And to think, SEC rules permit only 25 signees per class, per year.

So what’s the rush then? It’s hard to say. In recent years we’ve seen the recruiting calendar steadily accelerated by both the coaches and the players. More and more prospects are committing early, in part to get the process over with but also to secure a spot at their desired school. If you’re a middle-of-the-pack recruit, Alabama offers you a scholarship and you see there are only six spots left in the class, you better act fast.

It’s important to note, however, that without an early signing period in effect, we’re still talking tentative numbers. A verbal commitment is still nonbinding -- on both ends. Players will continue to look elsewhere and other programs will keep trying to poach other schools’ recruits. Coaches will make the scholarship numbers fit, one way or another.

South Carolina’s 19 current commitments may not be the same 19 recruits in a few months time. Ole Miss, on the other hand, has only eight commitments to date and could see that number double by the start of the season. Just look at Auburn, which has gone on a tear since mid-April by nagging 11 total commitments.

Compared to the other big five conferences, the SEC is wasting no time recruiting. The ACC, Big Ten and Big 12 each have only one school in their respective conferences with 16 or more commitments. The Pac-12, meanwhile, has none and is led by Arizona’s 14 commitments.

Other conferences might be clinging to a recruiting era gone by, one where prospects waited until signing day to put pen to paper and decide. An early signing period might change that in the future, but for now the SEC is living in the present, getting while the getting is good.

By last count, 152 of ESPN’s top 300 prospects have already committed. There’s no time to waste.
In five years as South Carolina’s quarterbacks and tight ends coach, G.A. Mangus has become a key cog in the Gamecocks' recruiting efforts. As a lead recruiter for prospects from New Jersey to Tampa, Mangus has a true feel for how the Gamecocks’ recruiting brand has risen in recent years with the three straight top-10 finishes, 11-win seasons and marquee players that have been drafted in the NFL.

[+] EnlargeG.A. Mangus
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsG.A. Mangus and South Carolina are putting together a 2015 recruiting class that already features five ESPN 300 prospects.
Since you got to Columbia in 2009, how has the perception of South Carolina football changed outside the state?

G.A. Mangus: Well, I think it has changed a whole lot. I’m going into my sixth season here with Coach [Steve] Spurrier, and things have really changed in many aspects in terms of recruiting, but in the last three seasons, finishing in the top 10 three years in a row and the highest ranking we’ve ever had last year, the TV contract we have in the SEC … recruiting in New Jersey, or Florida and up and down the Eastern seaboard, there are definitely a lot more people that recognize South Carolina as one of the big boys now. I don’t know that was the case up and down the Eastern seaboard, and nationally five or six years ago.

Evaluating and projecting quarterbacks can be the toughest position to conquer. What is it you and the staff looks for in a quarterback prospect?

GM: … We put a lot into the intangible part of it. The biggest part of it is getting around these young men. You can watch tape and watch them play, but getting around them as a person is the best way to find out what their makeup is … and that’s what the most important thing is and that is something I learned from Coach [Steve] Spurrier a long time ago. I think good feet are imperative in today’s game and you have to have an ‘it’ factor. I don’t necessarily know how to define an ‘it’ factor, but you know it once you are around a guy. That’s why it’s important to be around those guys as much as possible … Obviously, the neck up is huge. You have to be a quick decision maker, a quick thinker. This game today, as athletic as everyone is on defense, you just don’t have a lot of time. You have to have quick feet, make quick decisions and have an ‘it’ factor on top of that. One of the things Coach Spurrier always emphasized is the courage. The ones that have courage is the common denominator. The ones that I’ve always been around that have courage were the best ones. You have to be able to hang in the pocket and take one on the chin every now and then, and then how they play the next play tells a lot. And the other thing is accuracy. You have to be accurate, and if you combine that with the good feet, quick decisions and courage … that’s what we are looking for.

The Gamecocks have the makings of a class that can finish in the top 10. With 15 commitments already in the books, what are the key positions remaining?

GM: We have the ability in this class to take a larger number than we did a year ago, so we are always looking for good players. The big thing when trying to kind of close out a class, I guess, is to have room for difference-makers, whatever position that may be. Closing with some offensive tackles, tight ends on the offensive side of the ball, and defensive ends on the defensive side of the ball is a priority. Defensive backs also.

What is the most important aspect of recruiting? And has the most important aspect changed in the last two or three years with social media seemingly taking over recruiting in some ways?

GM: It has changed, but I don’t think the meaningful fundamentals of recruiting have changed. … It’s still about relationships, and I think it starts and finishes with the families and the high school coach. I think the day the families and high school coach get removed from the process is probably the time I’ll really be glad I’m not a young coach just getting out of college because it’s just all over the map if we lose those fundamentals in recruiting. Social media has changed some things, and it has made it a little more wide open. Parents are on Facebook, and kids are on Twitter, and like kids like to say, Facebook is for old people and Twitter is for young people. I’m a little of both, I guess, I’m middle age (laughs). It’s more of a 24/7 with the social media, and I don’t think it’s going to stop. Every year there is new social media site that kids are becoming a part of and trying to be the fad, and again it’s all things we have to be flexible on as coaches.

Would the ability for prospects to make official visits in the spring of junior year help the process as a whole?

GA: I don’t know that it will help, or change a whole lot because so many of these kids are going on all these unofficial visits. I think it would be nice to be able to pay for the trips if the kids are going to make the visits. ... So many of these kids are changing to early commitments, and I’m all for an early signing period; if a kid’s ready to get it done, then get it done. Contrary to what everyone talks about, there are still a lot of kids out there that do it the right way and make a decision and that’s the end of it. Kids today don’t get to take their official visits that get it done. That’s the one thing I do feel bad for the players today is they don’t get to enjoy that part as much, as maybe my age group did. Kids today, they commit and take the one official and that’s it. And when they do take an official visit somewhere else, then it’s all over Twitter and creates a lot of drama. I do think we could eliminate some of the drama if kids could make official visits in the spring of their junior year.

Notes from South Carolina camp 

June, 16, 2014
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COLUMBIA, S.C. -- The South Carolina Gamecocks hosted their annual prospect camp on Friday. With the three consecutive 11-win seasons and top-10 finishes, as well as producing a number of high NFL draft choices led by 2014 No. 1 overall selection Jadeveon Clowney, the level of talent at the camps continues to rise.

Here is some news and notes from the camp:


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ATHENS, Ga. – On Saturday, Georgia hosted the annual Mark Richt minicamp following the two-day 7-on-7 challenge. The three days of competition brought out many a top prospect, including several targets and future targets on Saturday.

Here are some observations from Saturday:


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SEC recruiting scorecard

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College football doesn't have an early signing period, yet, but that doesn't mean we can't get an early start on some recruiting news.

As of Friday, the SEC has seven teams ranking within the top 15 of the ESPN's RecruitingNation team rankings. Five of those teams -- Alabama, Texas A&M, Auburn, LSU and Tennessee -- are ranked inside the top 10. Alabama, which has 18 verbal commitments (16 ESPN 300 members), is No. 1, while Texas A&M (13 verbal commits/nine ESPN 300 members) is ranked second.

Here's a complete look at how the SEC is faring on the recruiting front, as we enter the month of June:

ALABAMA

2015 verbal commitments: 18

Spotlight: You know that Nick Saban loves collecting gems in the secondary, and that's exactly what he has in four-star cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick of Jersey City, N.J. He's a very smart corner who has good size -- with room to grow -- to compete with bigger receivers.

ESPN 300 members: 16 (Fitzpatrick; WR Calvin Ridley of Coconut Creek, Fla.; WR Daylon Charlot of Patterson, La.; DT Jonathan Ledbetter of Tucker, Ga.; TE Hale Hentest of Jefferson City, Mo.; OLB Mekhi Brown of Columbus, Ga.; OG Lester Cotton of Tuscaloosa, Ala.; S Deionte Thompson of Orange, Texas; S Shawn Burgess-Becker of Coconut Creek, Fla.; RB DeSherrius Flowers of Prichard, Ala.; OG Richie Petitbon of Washington, D.C.; DE Christian Bell of Birmingham, Ala.; DT T.D. Moton of Shreveport, La.; OG Dallas Warmack of Atlanta)

ARKANSAS

2015 verbal commitments: 8

Spotlight: Defensive tackle Hjalte Froholdt of Warren, Ohio, is exactly what Bret Bielema wants and needs along his defensive line. The ESPN 300 member could add some weight, but has nice strength and quickness to make him a valuable get for the Razorbacks.

ESPN 300 members: 2 (Froholdt; DE Jamario Bell of Junction City, Ark.)

AUBURN

2015 verbal commitments: 15

Spotlight: Athlete Kerryon Johnson of Madison, Ala., is not only the third-ranked athlete in this class, he's the No. 1-ranked player in the state of Alabama. With his combination of size, speed and strength, Johnson could line up all over. He could be a running back or safety for the Tigers.

ESPN 300 members: 6 (Johnson; OLB Jordan Colbert of Griffin, Ga.; S Ben Edwards of Jacksonville, Fla.; OG Kaleb Kim of Hoschton, Ga.; ATH D'Anfernee McGriff of Tallahassee, Fla.; OG Marquel Harrell of Fairburn, Ga.)

FLORIDA

2015 verbal commitments: 8

Spotlight: The Gators need to upgrade in the offensive playmaking department and athlete Derrick Dillon of Franklington, La., has made a lot of noise as a quarterback, but will likely play receiver at the next level. With his speed and explosiveness, he'll fit right in with Kurt Roper's up-tempo, spread offense.

ESPN 300 members: 4 (Dillon; OG Tyler Jordan of Jacksonville, Fla.; WR Tristan Payton of Jacksonville, Fla.; S Deontai Williams of Jacksonville, Fla.)

GEORGIA

2015 verbal commitments: 9

Spotlight: Athlete Terry Godwin of Hogansville, Ga., could hit a couple positions of need for the Bulldogs. He has excellent ball skills to be a cornerback and his hands yell wide receiver. His speed and athleticism should only get better as the year progresses.

ESPN 300 members: 4 (Godwin; DE Chauncey Rivers of Stone Mountain, Ga.; DE Natrez Patrick of Atlanta; S Rico McGraw of Nashville)

KENTUCKY

2015 verbal commitments: 9

Spotlight: As the Wildcats look to enhance their defensive talent, outside linebacker Eli Brown of Bowling Green, Ky., is exactly what Mark Stoops needs. With questions and depth issues at linebacker, Stoops needs top-flight players to come in at that position, and Brown could be a great pass rusher for the Wildcats in the future.

ESPN 300 members: 1 (Brown)

LSU

2015 verbal commitments: 12

Spotlight: Cornerback Kevin Toliver II of Jacksonville, Fla., is the nation's top-rated corner prospect and has the build of that prototypical, elite LSU corner. He has great size and instincts, and excels in man coverage.

ESPN 300 members: 5 (Toliver; OG Maea Teuhema of Keller, Texas; RB Nick Brossette of Baton Rouge, La; RB Derrius Guice of Baton Rouge; S Kevin Henry of Baton Rouge)

MISSISSIPPI STATE

2015 verbal commitments: 16

Spotlight: Outside linebacker Timothy Washington of Yazoo City, Miss., could provide some very good depth if junior linebacker Benardrick McKinney decides to leave early for the NFL. He's still a little raw, but has the speed and quickness to be a real threat off the edge.

ESPN 300 members: 1 (Washington)

MISSOURI

2015 verbal commitments: 7

Spotlight: Quarterback Drew Lock of Lee's Summit, Mo., could come in handy for the Tigers in the future. This is Maty Mauk's team, but once he's gone, let the battle begin. Lock is more of a drop-back passer than Mauk, but knows how to buy himself time in the pocket.

ESPN 300 members: 1 (Lock)


OLE MISS

2015 verbal commitments: 6

Spotlight: The Rebels will have to help their depth at running back, and Eric Swinney of Tyrone, Ga., is a quick, strong, explosive back who has the ability to hit the home-run ball at any moment. Swinney's natural talent and upside could give him the opportunity to compete for playing time early.

ESPN 300 members: 2 (Swinney; ATH Willie Hibbler of Sardis, Miss.)

SOUTH CAROLINA

2015 verbal commitments: 11

Spotlight: Defensive end Arden Key of Lithonia, Ga., has great size at 6 feet 5 inches, and has plenty of room to grow with his 210-pound frame. He also has solid speed to cause trouble as a pass rusher and has the patience/strength to play well against the run.

ESPN 300 members: 5 (Key; ILB Sherrod Pittman of Jacksonville, Fla.; CB Mark Fields II of Cornelius N.C.; DE Shameik Blackshear of Bluffton, S.C.; WR Jalen Christian of Damascus, Md.)

TENNESSEE

2015 verbal commitments: 11

Spotlight: Preston Williams of Lovejoy, Ga., is the prize of the class, as the nation's No. 2-ranked wide receiver. The Vols might have signed a couple of impressive receiving talents in the last couple of classes, but getting a big, physical and fast player like Williams on campus would be extra icing on the cake.

ESPN 300 members: 4 (Williams; DE Andrew Butcher of Alpharetta, Ga.; OG Jack Jones of Murfreesboro, Tenn.; ATH Jauan Jennings of Murfreesboro)

TEXAS A&M

2015 verbal commitments: 13

Spotlight: Don't be surprised by all the foaming at the mouth from Aggies fans after the commitment of quarterback Kyler Murray of Allen, Texas. He's the nation's No. 1 dual-threat QB for a reason. He isn't the biggest player at 5-11, 170 pounds, but he has tremendous speed and athleticism and delivers a beautiful ball inside and outside of the pocket.

ESPN 300 members: 9 (Murray; DT Daylon Mack of Gladewater, Texas; S Larry Pryor Jr. of Sulphur Springs, Texas; WR Kemah Siverand of Houston; OT Trevor Elbert of Heath, Texas; TE Jordan Davis of Houston; OT Connor Lanfear of Buda, Texas; RB Jay Bradford of Splendora, Texas; S Justin Dunning of Whitehouse, Texas)

VANDERBILT

2015 verbal commitments: 3

Spotlight: Cornerback Donovan Sheffield of Nashville would fill a hole at a position of need once on campus. He's a very patient and smart player, who has exceptional coverage skills.

ESPN 300 members: 1 (Sheffield)

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