COLUMBIA — Spring semester classes began Monday at South Carolina, and the Gamecocks’ football program officially welcomed three incoming players who will participate in spring practices: cornerback Ronnie Martin, quarterback Connor Mitch and offensive tackle D.J. Park.
Martin is a junior college transfer who originally signed with USC for the Class of 2011. He has two years of eligibility remaining. Coming out of Spartanburg High, he was rated the No. 46 corner nationally by Rivals.com. USC is losing starting corner Akeem Auguste, but retains rising senior Jimmy Legree, who started eight games in 2012.
It has become increasingly common in recent years for high school football players to graduate a semester early so they can participate in spring practices and get a head start on learning the college game. That’s what Mitch and Park will do as they arrive from Raleigh and Dillon as highly regarded recruits. USC has five commitments for the Class of 2013 who received four stars out of a possible five from Rivals. Mitch and Park are two of them.
Mitch is rated the No. 14 pro-style quarterback, No. 7 recruit in North Carolina and No. 242 overall recruit, making him USC’s third-highest rated recruit, behind inside linebacker Larenz Bryant (No. 40) and defensive tackle Kelsey Griffin (No. 119). They are scheduled to sign letters of intent with the Gamecocks on Feb. 6, along with the rest of the recruiting class.
Because rising senior quarterback Connor Shaw is out for the spring as he recovers from left foot surgery, Mitch likely will be third on the depth chart, behind junior Dylan Thompson and redshirt freshman Brendan Nosovitch. Mitch probably will redshirt during the 2013 season, but should get significant work during the 15 allotted spring practices.
Park is rated the No. 25 offensive tackle in the country and No. 4 recruit in South Carolina. He is USC’s highest-rated in-state recruit for 2013. The second-highest is center Bryce King, who is third nationally at his position and fifth in the state. He also played at Dillon High School.
This is the second time in three years that the Gamecocks landed a top in-state offensive lineman. In 2011, they got tackle Brandon Shell from Goose Creek (No. 2 in the state, No. 4 at his position and No. 66 overall).
From 2010-12, USC landed the top-rated in-state recruit every year (running back Marcus Lattimore, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and wide receiver Shaq Roland). The Gamecocks got the No. 2 recruit in 2007 and 2009, and No. 3 in 2006 and 2008. The last time before this year that USC didn’t get a top three in-state recruit was 2005, when the Gamecocks’ best in-state recruit was ranked 10th.
But the Gamecocks’ 2013 class is well-regarded. Rivals ranks it No. 16 nationally, three spots higher than last year’s and two better than 2011. Rivals’ team rankings go back through the Class of 2002. If USC stays at No. 16, it would mark the Gamecocks’ fifth-best rated class in that time, behind No. 6 in 2007, No. 8 in 2003, No. 11 in 2002 and No. 12 in 2009.
Since coach Steve Spurrier arrived in 2005, the Gamecocks have now had 16 recruits graduate early and enroll. Notable early enrollees under Spurrier include linebacker Shaq Wilson in 2008, cornerback Stephon Gilmore and linebacker/safety DeVonte Holloman in 2009, and Shaw in 2010.