FLORENCE – On a steamy South Carolina evening Will Muschamp recalled one of the strangest recruiting trips of a career spent looking for the next great SEC player.
Welcome to Casper, Wyoming, “The mountain town for the wild at heart.”
Well north of Laramie and Cheyenne, even Medicine Bow.
“So cold. Really cold,” Muschamp said Tuesday night before a Spurs Up! meeting with fans at the Florence Country Club.
Yet so fruitful. Muschamp as Florida head coach got a commitment from Taven Bryan, a defensive tackle the Jacksonville Jaguars just selected in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. A mere 3-star prospect, Bryan developed into “The Wyoming Wildman” and is one of 11 players picked in the last six NFL drafts that Muschamp recruited or coached at Florida.
It’s a good example of Muschamp’s commitment to commitments, a relentless pursuit that continues at South Carolina without adjustments for Clemson and Georgia success.
Yes, both of those programs are officially elite.
College Football Playoff veterans.
Popular picks for more January fun.
Muschamp’s consideration for Clemson and/or Georgia success when he sets out a recruiting strategy?
“Nothing,” he said. “It doesn’t change whether it’s Georgia, Clemson or Florida or Tennessee. You have to fight out there on the recruiting trail every day. And recruiting’s a lot like shaving: If you don’t do it every day, you start looking like a bum.”
Exactly the right approach. Because if annual foes Clemson and Georgia are struggling, maybe Florida and Tennessee are dominant.
Trouble is always lurking on a Gamecock schedule.
A USC beats Georgia pick
South Carolina fans, annoyed by the orange and red banners outside homes that didn’t have orange and red banners a few years ago, should spend less time worrying about the Tigers and Bulldogs and more time enjoying where the Gamecocks stand in comparison to everyone else on the schedule.
Yeah, that Kentucky thing.
But Muschamp, a Georgia alum who is 6-7 and 9-3 in his two seasons at South Carolina, should have a better team (albeit with a slightly tougher schedule) in 2018. Tony Barnhart, better known as Mr. College Football, this week picked South Carolina to finish second in the SEC East.
That’s not the best part of Barnhart’s SEC East prediction; the Gamecocks finished second last year. He picks Georgia to go 7-1 in SEC games with a loss in Columbia on Sept. 8 (and South Carolina to go 6-2 in the SEC).
Muschamp’s Gamecocks got this way after the 3-9 season in 2015 under Steve Spurrier by moving up talent acquisition lists both public and personal.
“I’ve never in my life looked at a star or ratings,” Muschamp said.
Just the same, his Gamecocks are No. 15 in ESPN’s current Class of 2019 list. They were No. 18 for 2018, No. 19 for 2017 and No. 27 for 2016.
See Muschamp shrug.
“Recruiting is not an exact science,” he said. “I always look at the NFL draft. In the first round there are 32 picks and how many are busts? About 50 percent. And they have unlimited resources as far as evaluation. They have great film. Some of the film I watch looks like it’s done off a pick-up truck.”
New recruiting rules are part of the game, too. Embracing is better than simply adapting.
This spring brings a wrinkle allowing high school prospects to make official college visits as juniors.
“It’s been good,” Muschamp said. “We’ve made the proper adjustments as a staff to accommodate some official visits coming in. I’ve been pleased with how they’ve gone. Columbia is a great place to be in April, May and June. It’s not just in the Northeast. We have a lot going on at our campus and it’s a great place to be.”
Next: the annual on-campus camps, where college coaching staffs will evaluate players in the 2019, 2020 and 2021 recruiting classes.
Muschamp in the last few months stretched his net to Orange, Calif., to snag a commitment from Class of 2019 prospect Ryan Hilinski, one of the top-rated quarterbacks among rising seniors and ESPN’s No. 34 overall prospect nationally.
That doesn’t mean Muschamp is ready to take the company plane anywhere.
“I don’t know if I’m going back to Casper,” he said. “The day I went there it was really cold. I remember that. Wow, it was freezing.”
Or maybe when chasing the next Wyoming Wildman do it during milder weather and mix in a side trip to see geysers and grizzlies in Yellowstone?
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff