COLUMBIA — It’s spring game day at Williams-Brice Stadium, where all eyes will be on true freshman quarterback Brandon McIlwain taking his first snaps before a crowd, and trainers will surely be standing by for all the hamstrings likely to be pulled in the alumni flag football game. But for Will Muschamp, today is also notable for another reason.
Recruiting is always top of mind for the South Carolina head coach, and that’s indeed the case for his first spring game, which kicks off at noon. For the past two weeks in media interviews, he’s been urging fans to turn out not just to support his current players, but also to help sway potential new ones.
“We need a huge crowd,” Muschamp said earlier this week. “We’re going to have a bunch of recruits here, and they need to see how loyal our fan base is and how passionate our fans are.”
Muschamp’s commitment to recruiting was evident on the day he was hired at South Carolina, and he visited then-Louisville commitment T.J. Brunson of Columbia (who later signed with USC) in the same suit he wore at his introductory press conference. Muschamp acts as the Gamecocks’ recruiting coordinator, and will almost certainly be hands-on during the last big spring recruiting day before his assistants head out later this month to evaluate prospects.
How important is the spring game in that context? For a team like South Carolina, rebuilding after its worst season in over a decade, it’s quite important, according to Mike Farrell, the national recruiting director at Rivals.
“For a program like a South Carolina that’s sort of rebuilding, and has a really good fan base that does come out and support the spring game, I think it can be extremely important. There are a lot of schools that don’t have tremendous fan support at their spring game, so you want to avoid as many kids as possible coming to your spring game if it’s just a sprinkling of fans,” he said.
“I think it’s a great recruiting tool for (USC), and I think (Muschamp) has surrounded himself with great recruiters who know how to take advantage of that. I think he wants to show kids, ‘Hey, look, we’re rebuilding, and you can come in and play right away.’ Not that he’s trying to showcase a terrible team, but I think it’s important when you’re 3-9 and your roster is a bit depleted, to get kids to see that roster so they can say, ‘Yeah, I can play with these guys.’
“More so than if you’re Alabama, and you’re recruiting every five-star in the country, and they’re coming to the spring game and seeing two five-stars ahead of them at the position. Sometimes that can work against you. This is a 3-9 tam, and the cupboard was left pretty bare. That’s why this is important.”
So no wonder Muschamp, who helped organize the alumni game and earlier in the week was in front of the Russell House student union mingling with USC students, has been so involved in the run-up to this spring game. The right atmosphere today could pay dividends in 2017, or beyond.
“Anytime you have an event like that, it’s recruiting. It really is,” said Gamecocks co-offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon. “You have another opportunity to show off your campus, show off your fan base to the people who are here. And I think that as to be taken very seriously.”
— Speaking of the alumni game, the gathering of former players could be as interesting as the spring game itself. USC received tentative commitments from over 100 former players, who will mix it up in a flag football game beginning at 11 a.m.
It’s quite a mix. There’s Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers, quarterback great turned play-by-play man Todd Ellis, Charleston-area natives Langston Moore and Preston Thorne, Super Bowl champions Anthony Wright and Corey Miller, USC legends Marcus Lattimore and Ryan Brewer, new Green Bay Packers tight end Jared Cook, Carolina Panthers practice squad member Damiere Byrd, and — 94-year-old Lou Sossamon?
Indeed, South Carolina’s first AP All-American (in 1942) is on the list, as is 77-year-old former Gamecocks player Humpy Wheeler, better known as a pioneering racetrack promoter. But not all 100-something alumi signed up will play; the whole group will be recognized at halftime, and sign autographs after the game. Regardless, here’s hoping trainers have plenty of ice and Advil on hand.