1 p.m.: Things appear to be winding down at South Carolina, now that the school has confirmed the signing of defensive back Toure Boyd of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. As far as how this Gamecocks class is being rated, it seems USC has dropped a bit from last week, when most services had South Carolina rated around 14th or 15th nationally. Then defensive end Arden Key committed to LSU, and then top-rated defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr. signed with Missouri, and the Gamecocks fell as a result.
With much of the Signing Day action in SEC and ACC country complete, the Gamecocks were ranked 18th by Rivals, 19th by ESPN and 24/7 Sports, and 22nd by Scout. That latter ranking might be a little low given that USC still managed to land 11 four-star commitments, among them Summerville offensive lineman Zack Bailey, defensive ends Dante Sawyer and Shameik Blackshear, and wide receivers Dexter Neal and Jalen Christian.
Perhaps most importantly, USC addressed its most glaring weakness from this past season -- the lack of a pass rush. South Carolina stockpiled defensive ends, signing six between their mid-year and National Signing Day classes combined. A number of those may play immediately, led by Marquavius Lewis of Greenwood, the nation’s top-ranked junior college defensive end who signed in December and enrolled in January.
No, there’s likely not a Jadeveon Clowney in there. But South Carolina addressed many of its needs, and for a program that went 7-6, faced questions about the long-term future of its head coach, and suffered through a spate of early de-commitments, a consensus class in the top 20 nationally is probably as much as the Gamecocks could have asked for.
We’ll see what Steve Spurrier has to say about the latest USC recruiting class when he speaks to the media at 4 p.m. In the meantime, he’s a little perspective in the form of a tweet from J.J. Watt, the best football player on the planet, who was rated a two-star recruit by both Scout and Rivals, and started out at Central Michigan before transferring to Wisconsin: “Annual reminder that it’s not all about how many stars you have or how many cameras show up at your signing,” Watt wrote. “It’s what you do next.”
11:30 a.m.: Zack Bailey of Summerville, the top-ranked offensive lineman in the state of South Carolina, has signed his Letter of Intent with USC, the program has announced. Dexter Neal’s signing has also been confirmed by the school.
Bailey, 6-5 and 300 pounds, is a four-star prospect out of Summerville High School who is one of the highest-rated players in this South Carolina class. Bailey was an eighth grader when his family moved from Seattle to the Charleston area as part of the Boeing expansion, and he was urged to give football a try by Summerville coaches.
Clearly, it worked out. “Never did I even think back then that I might be playing college football someday,” the offensive guard told The Post and Courier’s David Shelton in August. “It just happened. Football found me.”
Added legendary Green Wave coach John McKissick: “He rates right up there with the best that we’ve had. He’s a smart kid and he learns really well. If he sticks with it, he can go a long ways.”
10:45 a.m.: More signings, and a couple of big ones: wide receiver Dexter Neal and defensive end Dante Sawyer. Neal, 6-2 and 197 pounds, is a four-star wide receiver out of Atlanta’s Stephenson High School, which also produced former Gamecocks tailback Mike Davis. Neal, who could help fill a void at wideout left by the departures of Damiere Byrd, Shaq Roland and K.J. Brent, will also play baseball for Chad Holbrook’s squad.
Neal announced his signing on his Twitter feed. USC announced the signing of Sawyer, a 6-3, 270-pound native of Suwanee, Ga., who comes to Columbia via East Mississippi Community College. where he recorded 11 tackles for loss and seven sacks last season. The four-star prospect had originally signed with the Gamecocks last season before ending up in junior college.
South Carolina has also announced the signing of Antoine Wilder, a defensive back out of (shocker!) Atlanta and a high school teammate of Arden Key. The 5-11, 172-pound Wilder is rated as a three-star prospect by Rivals.
10 am: The Rashad Fenton signing is now official, according to USC. The Gamecocks have also announced the signings of Devante Covington and Quandeski Whitlow, the latter a 6-4, 228-pound defensive end from Opelika, Ala., rated as a three-star player.
Also, our friends at Channel 5 in Charleston have reported that Wando’s Kyle Ragsdale, a Shrine Bowl linebacker, will walk on at USC. Ragsdale, who stands 6-1 and 210 pounds and has 4.43 speed, played half of last season with a cast from a broken arm, and had received scholarship offers from Stetson and The Citadel.
And in case you were wondering -- two-time USC commitment Arden Key, a four-star defensive end from Atlanta, indeed signed his Letter of Intent with LSU this morning. Barring a redshirt, Key will come to Williams-Brice Stadium when the Tigers visit Columbia on Oct. 10.
9:30 a.m.: From a Gamecocks perspective, one of the day’s few remaining questions may have been answered -- Rashad Fenton, a three-star defensive back from Miami, has just tweeted “I will be attending the University of South Carolina.” The 5-11, 178-pound Fenton was also considering Louisville and Florida.
USC has also announced the signings of Kyle Markway, a 6-4, 219-pound tight end from St. Louis whom Rivals rates as a three-star pickup; Mon Denson, a 5-10, 215-pound running back from LaGrange, Ga,, rated as a three-star player; and A.J. Turner, a 5-10, 180-pound running back from Clifton, Va., also rated as a three-star.
The Gamecocks’ class as a whole is ranked 18th thus far by ESPN, which lists five future Gamecocks among its top 300 players: Christian Pellage (No. 14 offensive tackle), Shameik Blackshear (No. 18 defensive end), Zack Bailey (No. 15 offensive guard), Sherrod Pittman (No. 6 inside linebacker), and Jalen Christian (No. 29 wide receiver).
“I think anytime you don’t have the success on the field a lot of people thought you were going to have, it can somewhat affect your momentum in recruiting. I thnk that happened a ltitle bit for South Carolina this year,” said Tom Luginbill, ESPN’s national recruiting director.
“I’ve really been surprised – and I like what they’re doing, because I think it’s needed – but they’ve really gone heavy into the junior college ranks, and that’s not generally a stable of Steve Spurrier-coached teams. And I think it’s a reflection of how concerned they were of the development rate of some of their young players, and the fact that they needed some older, more experienced guys in there to make an immediate impact. I still think thier class is going to be a sound one. I like it in the offensive and defense lines particularly. I think it’s got the hallmark of a top 25 class.”
8:50 a.m.: South Carolina has officially welcomed offensive lineman Cory Helms, a transfer from Wake Forest who will have to sit out the 2015 season unless the NCAA grants his appeal to play immediately. Helms, a 6-4, 315-pound native of the Atlanta area, started two seasons at Wake and was named Freshman All-American in 2013. Helms has started at both center and left guard, and told the Columbia paper last month that he was transferring to be closer to a sick grandmother.
USC has also officially welcomed Pellage, Nunez, wide receiver Jalen Christian and linebacker Daniel Fennell. Christian is a four-star recruit out of Damascus, Md., a 5-10, 173-pounder who is rated by Rivals as the No. 38 player nationally at his position. Fennell is a 6-2, 220-pounder out of metro Atlanta who is rated as a three-star prospect.
8:30 a.m.: It took a while, but USC has finally welcomed a player over the football program’s official Twitter feed. That would be Shameik Blackshear, a four-star defensive end out of Bluffton. Rivals ranks the 6-4, 245-pounder as the No. 18 player at his position, and Blackshear promises to be another player who will compete for time and try to help the Gamecocks mount that pass rush which was so missing this past season.
USC has now also officially announced the signings of Derouen, Camper, Redmond, and Joseph Charlton, a punter and kicker out of A.C. Flora High School in Columbia. We’ve also seen photos over social media over Devante Covington, another defensive end, signing his paperwork. Covington, a 6-4, 230-pound native of Milledgeville, Ga., signed with USC in 2013 but ended up at Georgia Military College. Rivals rates him as a two-star prospect.
8:10 a.m.: Oh, the fax machines are certainly cranking them out now. USC assisitant coach G.A. Mangus over Twitter has posted a welcome to Trey Derouen, a 6-3, 324-pound offensive lineman from the Atlanta area (noticing a theme here?) whom Rivals rates as a three-star prospect. Also, USC recruiting director Steve Spurrier Jr. has posted a photo of offensive lineman Blake Camper signing his paperwork. Camper, 6-6 and 281 pounds, is out of Virginia Beach, Va., and another one of those three-stars South Carolina seems to stockpile.
Speaking of offensive linemen, Florida cable network BrightHouse is posting video stills of 6-6, 291-pound Christian Pellage from Brooksville, Fla., and referring to him as a “South Carolina signee,” so my crack research team has taken that to mean he’s inked his paperwork as well.
7:50 a.m.: According to posts on social media, quarterback Lorenzo Nunez of Kennesaw, Ga., has offiially signed with the Gamecocks. Nunez, 6-2 and 190 pounds, is a dual-threat quarterback some have compared to Connor Shaw, who also came out of the Atlanta area. Rivals calls him a four-star prospect, and the site’s national recruiting director, Mike Farrell, termed him a good fit for the Gamecocks.
“He’s very comfortable moving around ... and not overly comfortable standing there and going through progressions,” Farrell said earlier this week. “He’s an athletic kid who will have to lean a little bit more patience. But I think he’s a good fit for South Carolina, because they want guys who can move around. I think they saw the success they had with Shaw and how important it is in the SEC to have an athletic quarterback who can keep the play alive, and that’s exactly what he is.”
Also, USC quarterbacks/tight ends coach G.A. Mangus welcomed tight end Connor Redmond to the USC family in a Twitter post, which we take to mean he has signed as well. Redmond, 6-4 and 220 pounds, is another Atlanta-area kid whom Rivals rates as a three-star prospect.
7:30 a.m.: Good morning from Signing Day Central, which happens to my office in downtown Columbia. A big ’ol pot of coffee is brewing, oatmeal is in the microwave, and the fax machine over at the Floyd Football Building at Williams-Brice Stadium is probably whirring into action as we speak. By the way, does anyone else still use fax machines besides college recruits and coaches on Signing Day? Those rolls of paper are such a pain. Anyway, that’s another question for another time.
Recruits are able to begin officially signing their National Letters of Intent at 7 a.m. local time, and we’ll update as much as we can in this space before Steve Spurrier formally addresses the media at 4 this afternoon. From a Gamecocks perspective, not sure how much drama to expect – while USC still has some undecideds out there, it seems like the major theatrics took place Monday night, when the wave of de-commitments crested with defensive end Arden Key flip-flip-flopping from USC to LSU.
So as much as anything, this may be keeping track of kids who promised to sign with South Carolina actually doing just that (what a concept). Yours truly is not a recruiting analyst, and does not profess to be one, so we’ll let the experts in that field handle things like ratings. Rivals had the Gamecocks’ class ranked No. 16 nationally on the eve of Signing Day, a dip from 14th before Key’s latest commitment – we’ll see where things stand on that front later this afternoon.