Their names might not be listed among the top recruits in the nation or even in South Carolina, but the best senior linebackers in the Lowcountry are putting up gaudy numbers while anchoring their teams on defense.
And with three area high school coaches serving on the Shrine Bowl staff this year, all of those tackling machines are hoping to impress enough to earn a spot on the South Carolina roster of the annual all-star game.
All-stars or not, the top five senior linebackers in the area stack up well in statewide lists. None of the five has yet to receive a Power 5 scholarship offer, but they are getting some college interests from all levels of college football.
Depending on who you ask, the top two linebackers in the area, in any order, are Fort Dorchester’s Davon Gilmore and Wando’s Justin Pelic. Each tallied more than 120 tackles last season and rank among the area’s leading tacklers again this season.
Gilmore transferred from Garrett Tech after his freshman year and has been a fixture on the Patriots' defense for the last three years.
“I wanted to compete at the highest level and challenge myself against the top competition,” said Gilmore, a 6-2, 220-pounder. “I feel like Fort Dorchester helped me improve my skills and taught me a lot about how to play linebacker.”
Gilmore is noted as one of the more physical players in the Lowcountry. He racked up 139 tackles with 14 tackles for loss as a junior.
“I feel like my strength is just tackling, destroying blockers and hitting the guy with the ball,” said Gilmore, who says his primary college interest early on has come from Georgia State and Coastal Carolina.
Pelic (6-0, 215) also packs a punch as a tackler, using his 4.55 speed and his strength (bench presses 360 pounds) to play a fast and physical game. Pelic has yet to receive a Power 5 offer but is getting high interest from several schools as a preferred walk-on candidate. Among the schools showing interest are North Carolina, Rice, Vanderbilt, Notre Dame and Stanford.
Pelic, whose parents graduated from Notre Dame, is making an unofficial visit to South Bend, Ind., this weekend. While UNC currently tops his list, Pelic is keeping an open mind.
“I love UNC and they have been great to me but I am waiting to see if anything opens up in terms of a scholarship at some of these schools,” said Pelic, who sports a 1,490 SAT score and is an honor student at Wando. “My dream is to play college football at the highest level possible. I know if given an opportunity, I will make the most of it. I’m just getting some of my senior film out there and some schools are showing a lot of interest.”
Pelic recorded 120 tackles, including 85 solo hits, and scored a pair of defensive touchdowns as a junior. He is averaging more than 11 tackles per game this season.
Summerville’s Cole Phillips racked up 140 tackles and 14 for loss as a junior. He already has 44 tackles this season as the “heart and soul of our defense,” said head coach Joe Call.
The 6-1, 207-pounder has garnered some FCS and Division II interest early on.
“My strength is the way I prepare for games, watching a lot of film and knowing what’s going to happen before the snap,” Phillips said. “I try to be a physical player and I love contact, but I think being a smart player and knowing what the other team is doing helps me a lot.”
First Baptist’s Jackson Watson is in his third season as a starter and anchors one of the top defensive units in SCISA. Watson (6-0, 195) has walk-on offers from The Citadel and Wofford, but coach Johnny Waters feels scholarship offers are headed Watson’s way.
“He’s so smart as a player and he’s everywhere, all over the field making plays,” Waters said.
Lowcountry's Top 10 senior linebackers
Player, school, height, weight
1. Davon Gilmore, Fort Dorchester, 6-2, 220
2. Justin Pelic, Wando, 6-0, 215
3. Cole Phillips, Summerville, 6-1, 207
4. Jackson Watson, First Baptist, 6-0, 195
5. Jordan Judge, Stratford, 6-0, 205
6. Rhett Butcher, Ashley Ridge, 6-1, 190
7. Colby Taylor, Summerville, 6-2, 220
8. Ja’Xavier Legare, West Ashley, 5-9, 185
9. Hunter Mills, Hanahan, 6-0, 212
10. De Francis, Cane Bay, 5-8, 180