COLUMBIA — South Carolina’s defense just got four stars better.

Four-star football recruit Josh Belk was cleared by the NCAA on Thursday, two days before the Gamecocks start their season. Belk, the freshman defensive lineman from Richburg who transferred from Clemson, is immediately eligible to play.

“Obviously, we are very happy to get the news from the NCAA that Josh is eligible to play this season,” coach Will Muschamp said in a statement. “Our compliance department did a great job of making a strong case for Josh and the NCAA did the right thing in granting the waiver. I’m appreciative for everyone involved in making this happen.”

There was no word Thursday on the status of USC’s other transfer, cornerback Jamel Cook. Cook, from Miami, transferred to USC after two years at Southern Cal.

But Belk, a Tiger in the spring, is a fully eligible Gamecock in the fall.

Now to see if he will play Saturday, or in any of the Gamecocks’ games this season.

Belk was held out for the first week of preseason camp until he could pass his physical, and is listed at 359 pounds. He was listed at 309 coming out of Lewisville High.

Losing the weight during the season should be no problem (Javon Kinlaw shed 40 pounds while playing last year) but Belk probably wouldn’t be able to play a large number of snaps at his current weight. He could play, but likely only in specialized packages.

Belk was ranked 88th in ESPN’s Top 100 recruiting service last year, the No. 5 defensive tackle in the country and the No. 2 player in South Carolina. He earned a spot in the U.S. Army All-American game.

Follow David Cloninger on Twitter @DCPandC.