COLUMBIA — One year ago, Brandon McIlwain was in the process of establishing himself as the player to beat in the race to become South Carolina’s starting quarterback. Wednesday, the two-sport star announced that he will transfer to another school.
“After much thought and prayer, I have decided to transfer from the University of South Carolina,” he wrote in a post on Twitter. “This is one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make, but I know it’s right and God has a plan.”
Initially recruited by Steve Spurrier, McIlwain stuck to his commitment and signed with the Gamecocks after Will Muschamp became head coach. For a program with no established starter at quarterback, the arrival of the four-star prospect from Newtown, Pa., was a major addition — particularly when he decided to forego the Major League Baseball Draft, enroll early, and play both football and baseball at USC.
And last spring McIlwain certainly appeared to live up to billing, enjoying a stellar spring game that placed him in the mix to start behind center in 2016. But the quarterback picture at South Carolina was altered when four-star recruit Jake Bentley decided to leave high school a year early, and join the Gamecocks over the summer.
McIlwain played in eight games last season, starting three of them, but he struggled in the vertical passing game and USC’s offense struggled to score points. After six games of rotating between McIlwain and senior Perry Orth, Muschamp finally took the redshirt off Bentley, who led the Gamecocks to four victories in their last seven games.
“Brandon came by today and spoke to me about transferring,” Muschamp said in a statement. “I support his decision and wish him all the best.”
Things didn’t work out as planned on the baseball diamond, either. Although McIlwain was viewed as a high-round MLB draft pick, conflicts with football cut into his baseball availability last season, when he appeared in just eight games, going 1 for 10 at the plate.
With Bentley entrenched as USC’s starting quarterback, the plan this spring was for McIlwain to focus primarily on baseball. He had appeared in one game as a pinch runner, without a plate appearance, through Wednesday. McIlwain, who will transfer after this semester, will not finish this season with the team, USC confirmed.
“Brandon has all the skills to be a terrific baseball player,” USC head baseball coach Chad Holbrook said in a statement. “I have no doubt, as he devotes more time to the sport, he can do great things. We have enjoyed him immensely and wish him well as his career moves forward.”
Without McIlwain, the quarterback picture behind Bentley becomes thin. Redshirt junior Michael Scarnecchia, who missed last season with a shoulder injury and has one pass attempt in his career, is the only other scholarship quarterback in spring practice. USC also has walk-ons Bailey Hart and Danny Gordon, with signee Jay Urich on the way.
The 6-foot, 190-pound sophomore finishes his USC football career 62 of 118 passing with two touchdowns, and 127 rushing yards for two more scores. McIlwain has deep roots in the Palmetto State, where he spent summers growing up on the Isle of Palms. His maternal grandmother lives in Charleston, where his mother Chalena graduated from Middleton High School and once worked as a television reporter.
McIlwain’s father Roddy is a USC graduate from the Columbia area, and his paternal grandmother lives in Irmo. Chalena McIlwain did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
“Wearing Garnet and Black has been an honor and a privilege for me,” Brandon McIlwain wrote. “I will cherish the time I spent at USC, and I thank all the people in Columbia and Gamecock Nation who have shown me love and support, but at this point it is time to make a change.”