Brandon Shell’s life began to return to normal Wednesday morning shortly after he signed a national letter of intent to play football for the South Carolina Gamecocks.
Members of the media left the Goose Creek High school campus and Shell, a 6-foot-7, 290-pound tackle, was on his way to class, books in one hand and a carton of orange juice in the other. He was still wearing his suit, and was still smiling. Most of all, he was happy that the recruiting process finally was over.
Shell is the most decorated football player in Goose Creek history. He was a finalist for the state’s Mr. Football award, played in the U.S. Army All-American football game and was on the USA Today and Parade All-America teams. He committed to play for coach Steve Spurrier on Oct. 31, but some schools continued to recruit him. One college that pursued him right to the end was Alabama. Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban visited Goose Creek last week and his assistant coaches were still calling Shell on Wednesday morning hoping to get him to change his mind.
“I had a lot to think about,” Shell said. “But South Carolina is the place to be. It was hard to say no (to coach Saban), but you go where your heart feels right. I couldn’t see myself at Alabama. It didn’t feel like home. I can be like a normal person again. All those phone calls. I can go back to my life. I feel good. I feel happy. I was kind of getting tired of the recruiting when I committed to South Carolina. I thought I could kick back and relax. Now I can.”
Shell was one of three players from the Lowcountry who signed with major football programs on Wednesday. Clemson signed Woodland athlete Robert Smith and Porter-Gaud wide receiver Stanton Seckinger.
Shell and Smith lived up to great expectations. Both players were starters their freshman seasons and both have good bloodlines. Shell’s great uncle is Art Shell, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Smith’s cousin is Tye Hill, a state champion in track at Woodland who went on to play football for Clemson. He was a first-round draft pick of the St. Louis Rams in 2006.
Smith, who committed to Clemson more than a year ago, rewrote the Woodland record books as a four-year starter at quarterback. He rebounded from a knee injury his junior season to complete 125 of 231 passes for 2,066 yards and 28 touchdowns last fall. He rushed 145 times for 1,111 yards and 14 touchdowns. He finished his career with 8,268 passing yards and 3,112 rushing yards while accounting for 123 touchdowns.
“This feels great,” said Smith, who brought Tye Hill’s Clemson jersey to the signing day ceremony. “I’ve known where I was going for the last year now and just to know that it is official, I can’t back off, they can’t back off, it just feels good to know that I’m a Clemson Tiger.”
He could play defense at Clemson, and was up to the challenge in the North-South all-star game. He played outside linebacker and finished with seven tackles, including four solo stops. He led the South team with 2-1/2 tackles for a loss and recorded a sack.
“I’m ready,” Smith said. “They talked to me about possibly playing some Wildcat, but I know that defense will be the main focus. I played quarterback all of my life, but I’m using that as motivation on defense. I want to show that I can make it on defense too, that I’m not just a quarterback. No matter where you put me at on the field, I’m going to work hard.”
Seckinger also posted impressive statistics his senior season with 98 receptions for 1,815 yards and 26 touchdowns at Porter-Gaud. He is expected to be a grayshirt, which means he signed on Wednesday but will wait until January 2012 to enroll as a full-time student.
Most of the Lowcountry’s signees are staying in state, including Summerville running back De’angelo Henderson, who signed with Coastal Carolina.
Henderson was a Shrine Bowl selection and a finalist for the state’s Mr. Football award.
He had a brilliant career at Summerville, cracking the starting lineup as a sophomore. Henderson rushed for a state-best 2,346 yards and 27 touchdowns for the Green Wave his senior season.
Wando, James Island and Woodland all had three players sign Wednesday.
Wando’s Alex Glover and Brandon Eakins signed with The Citadel, and Christian Rathbone signed with Newberry.
James Island’s Jairon Harrison signed with South Carolina State, Elliot Thomas signed with The Citadel and Bo Patterson will play for Dartmouth.
In addition to Smith signing with Clemson, Woodland had two players — Devine Kelly and Ricky Pringle — sign with Newberry.
Newberry also signed two Stratford players — Brett Borders and Ryan Barnwell.
Burke’s Fadol Brown, the Region 6-A lineman of the year, will join James Island’s Harrison at South Carolina State.