GOOSE CREEK -- The road to the University of South Carolina is becoming decidedly more navigable, and popular, for the state's top high school football talent. Players such as Alshon Jeffery, Marcus Lattimore and Jadeveon Clowney have made that evident in successive recruiting classes.
A disconnect still exists, for whatever reason, between the Gamecocks and the Lowcountry.
Goose Creek's Brandon Shell has noticed, and he intends to personally close the gap.
"We have all these good athletes, like A.J. Green, Carlos Dunlap, Robert Quinn," Shell said this week. "They've gone other places. But our state, South Carolina, we need some championships. If we can keep our talent in South Carolina, then we'll have a chance to win those championships."
That is the message Steve Spurrier and his staff have been pushing for years, and after the school's first appearance in the SEC title game in 2010, it has gradually made its way from the mountains to the coast in the
"I just want to be part of the change," Shell said. "I don't want to walk in someone else's footsteps. I want to make history."
Spurrier and the Gamecocks are counting on Shell to help do just that. Spurrier has repeatedly said the 6-6, 316-pound Shell will have a chance to compete immediately for the left tackle position, the most important for Shawn Elliott's work-in-progress offensive line.
"Time will tell," said recruiting coordinator Steve Spurrier Jr., who first offered and reeled in Shell. "His biggest chance to play is because we need him."
Shell will report to campus in about a week, in time for the first session of summer school and workouts with strength coach Craig Fitzgerald.
How much he will immediately be able to do with Fitzgerald still is not precisely clear. Shell had surgery in March to repair a labrum tear in his left shoulder. He is healing quickly, but there is no desire to rush him back from surgery.
He is still expected to be ready to go by the time preseason camp arrives in August. No one who knows him is betting against him becoming a factor this fall, even taking the surgery into consideration.
"He expects to go in there and compete for playing time," Goose Creek coach Chuck Reedy said. "He's not going up there to redshirt or be on the bench."
A coach's dream
Reedy has about 20 years of college coaching experience, including offensive coordinator stints at Clemson and USC, and he says he has only seen a couple of linemen more college-ready than Shell.
"The good Lord blessed him," he said. "If you were going to draw up an offensive lineman, you'd pretty much draw up Brandon Shell."
Asked if anyone could get past Shell, Reedy shook his head. He lamented, too, that Clowney and Shell never could go one on one at the December Shrine Bowl because Clowney was injured that week.
"The better the players," Reedy said, "the better he played."
Shell's quick feet and strong hands are among his athletic assets, Reedy said. The current knock on Shell is that he played in a run-oriented offense. Can he protect a passing quarterback?
"That'll be a piece of cake for him," Reedy said. "Pass protecting is moving your feet and using your hands. Those are things he will do better than anybody else up there, naturally."
Reedy first saw Shell across the sideline, when Shell was a freshman at West Ashley. Even then, Reedy estimates that Shell was about 6-5 and 270 pounds. He stood out.
By his sophomore year at West Ashley, there were rumbles about the family moving into Goose Creek's district. Reedy welcomed the game-changing lineman, the great nephew of NFL Hall of Fame lineman Art Shell.
It was about that same time that someone called Spurrier Jr., to alert him about the massive, athletic youngster with good genes. Spurrier Jr. saw Shell for the first time soon after that call.
"I saw him and said, 'Has anybody offered you a scholarship yet?' " Spurrier Jr. said. "He said no and I said, 'Well, the University of South Carolina has.' "
That brought a smile to Shell's face this week, as he remembered the story. It was a moment that meant something to him. No matter who came calling later -- many did, with Alabama, Clemson and Georgia among the more notable -- there was no erasing who extended the first offer.
Shell stayed true to that, even when the other schools turned up the heat.
The only game Shell saw on a visit as a junior was at Clemson. Georgia got more serious about Shell during the winter months. Alabama was not far behind in its pursuit.
Even after Shell made his commitment to USC public this past fall, it was coach Nick Saban and the Tide that did not stand down. Saban set up an in-home visit -- his bread-and-butter -- with Shell in January. He visited Goose Creek a couple of days before Signing Day. He thought he could turn Shell for the Tide.
Shell, though, didn't budge in the shimmer of a recent national championship ring.
"Nothing ever changed," Reedy said. "He was going to South Carolina the whole time."
Like Jeffery and Lattimore before him, Shell is a quiet kid who wants to make good by staying close to home.
"There's something about the school that doesn't make me want to go anywhere else," Shell said. "It's the way everybody treats you and how you have love for your home state.
"It's not just people in Columbia; it's people from everywhere in the state. If I went somewhere else, it wouldn't quite be like that."