USC’s Muschamp turns a salvage job into a building block

Brandon McIlwain takes part in a signing ceremony for early enrollees Wednesday at South Carolina. With him is his grandmother Geraldine, who lives in Irmo. (David Caraviello/Staff)

Will Muschamp urges patience, saying it will be two to three years before we truly know the quality of his first signing class at South Carolina. But one thing is already certain — the new Gamecocks head coach certainly made the most out of what once seemed a salvage job.

This USC class on National Signing Day won’t grab any national attention, and won’t crack the top 10 in any rankings. But in less than two months on the job, Muschamp took the remains of a tattered recruiting infrastructure and cobbled together a group of 24 signees that at least provide Gamecocks fans with hope.

“I’m very pleased with where we are, I really am,” he said Wednesday at Williams-Brice Stadium. “I don’t think you’re ever satisfied, that’s the way I look at things. ... Winning on Signing Day is not really important to me. It’s about two years down the line, three years. Where are these guys, how much do they contribute, how much do they play, and how productive they are as players for South Carolina.”

A telling sign might be that the Gamecocks won several Signing Day battles, including one for four-star defensive lineman Stephon Taylor, a New Orleans native who had also been considering Texas and Florida State. Receiver Randecous Davis chose USC over Miami, and defensive lineman Aaron Thompson signed with the Gamecocks over Maryland.

USC didn’t get everyone it wanted — Philadelphia defensive end Karamo Dioubate, the No. 91 player in ESPN’s top 300, chose Temple over the Gamecocks. But USC landed four players in the ESPN ranking: quarterback Brandon McIlwain (No. 118), defensive lineman Keir Thomas (No. 192), Taylor (No. 226), and Conway receiver Bryan Edwards (No. 253).

“We visited about 36 or 38 guys, and only six guys we offered didn’t come,” Muschamp said. “So when we got them on campus, we did a great job with them.”

One exception was Fort Dorchester receiver Diondre Champaigne, a USC commitment who did not sign Wednesday. According to Patriots head coach Steve LaPrad, Champaigne was informed Monday that South Carolina wanted to place him at Jones County (Miss.) Junior College, the same school where current USC commit Javon Kinlaw of Goose Creek has enrolled. Champaigne and his family weren’t in favor of that decision and opted to explore other options.

USC still signed five receivers, bolstering a unit with few proven pass-catchers now that Pharoh Cooper is off to the NFL. “They see opportunity,” Muschamp said, “and they were all told that given the opportunity, if they’re the best at their position, they’re going to play.”

The Gamecocks added four offensive linemen, and Muschamp said he’ll wait until preseason camp to determine if any member of that group is redshirted. USC’s seven defensive line signees include the 6-4, 285-pound Taylor, whom Muschamp said he’d recruited for three years “in three different shirts,” referring to his previous stints as head coach at Florida and defensive coordinator at Auburn.

But above all, Wednesday was about Muschamp, whose prowess as a recruiter was evident in how he flipped several players from previous commitments to USC. One was Columbia linebacker T.J. Brunson, a Louisville commit — until Muschamp visited him, hours after being hired, in the same suit in which he’d met the media.

“It shows how serious he takes his job,” Brunson said in a signing ceremony at Richland Northeast High School. “He wants to win, plain and simple. He wants to win. That definitely made a mark for me, and how seriously he thought of me and my athletic abilities.”

The result of Muschamp’s efforts? South Carolina was 56th in Rivals’ recruiting rankings in early December when he took the job. Wednesday evening, the Gamecocks were 26th.

“He’s overcoming years of neglect,” said Mike Farrell, Rivals national recruiting director. “He’s inheriting a car that hasn’t had the oil changed in forever. The tires haven’t been rotated. It probably hasn’t been taken out of the garage when it comes to what they can truly do in recruiting.”

Wednesday, his first class may have offered a hint. “We’re going to leave a mark,” Brunson said. “I believe we’re going to leave a mark, for coach Muschamp coming in and being his first class. I think it’s going to be something special for years to come.”