A week ago, Timberland High School’s Johnell Brown signed a national letter of intent to play football at South Carolina State.
Since then, the Wolves’ defensive end has watched as S.C. State’s future is debated in the Statehouse and in the news. Two House subcommittees have voted to suspend operations at the historically black university for three semesters beginning July 1, a move that would shut the financially troubled school down until January 2017. All athletic programs would be suspended under the proposal, which still must be approved by the full House and Senate.
“A week ago, you had parents who were in a euphoric state because their kid had signed a scholarship,” said Timberland coach Art Craig. “Now, they are hearing that the school might close for two years. It’s a tough deal.”
Brown, an All-Lowcountry pick at 6-3 and 187 pounds, is one of 29 high school players who signed with S.C. State on National Signing Day last week. Now, they have to face the prospect that the school won’t even be open in the fall, when it’s time for them to report to college.
“Obviously, there is some concern there,” Craig said. “But I told Johnell, until we know what’s going to happen, we’re not going to get in a frenzy here. It’s still got a long way to go before it actually happens.”
Still, Craig said he is taking steps to make sure Brown has options.
“I’m not going to lie and say that I haven’t called a few people and said if something does happen, what are our options,” Craig said. “We’ve kind of got a plan B there. We’re fortunate that Johnell is a good enough player and student that people would like to have him.”
Brown’s first choice is still to attend S.C. State, Craig said.
“He wants to be a Bulldog,” Craig said. “We’re just watching with caution and hoping that all of this is going to be rectified.”
Quarterback Khaliq Anthony of Hunter-Kinard-Tyler High School in Neeses also is concerned.
“It was shocking,” Anthony told WIS-TV in Columbia. “My main question is what are they going to do with the players that signed last Wednesday? ... I’ll be watching very closely because this was supposed to be my future home.”
S.C. State football coach Buddy Pough declined to comment Thursday, as did commissioner Dennis Thomas of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
Of course, a shut down of the Orangeburg school would affect far more than this year’s football recruiting class. According to Department of Education figures, S.C. State has 14 varsity sports involving about 250 student-athletes and 38 coaches. The athletic department had a budget of $9.3 million in 2013-14, according to the DOE.
Former S.C. State coach Willie Jeffries said it might take 20 years for Bulldog athletics to recover if the school were shut down for two years and then reopened.
“I think it would take 20 years or more, if it ever comes back,” said Jeffries, who coached the Bulldogs from 1973-78 and 1989-2001. “If football starts back up after two years, all the players will be gone. You’d have to start out almost like a club team, with no scholarships, and just play. It would really tear the program up.”
The events of the last few days have been difficult to watch for S.C. State supporters, Jeffries said.
“It’s very heartbreaking, that’s about all I can say,” he said. “At one time, S.C. State was one of the top historically black colleges. A beautiful campus, good athletic teams, great academics. Now, it’s rough to see what it is going through, to witness this.”
Lowcountry athletes at S.C. State include freshman Ty Solomon of Charleston Collegiate and junior Darryl Palmer of Timberland on the men’s basketball team and football players John Ross. Jr. (Burke), Anthony Britt (Woodland), Paul Nesbit (Cross), Eric Dickerson (Stratford), James Robinson (Goose Creek) and Kory Brown (Berkeley).