USC's Beaufort signees out to prove themselves

bparker@beaufortgazette.comFebruary 5, 2009 

In recent years, the 24-hour period known as National Signing Day has become a sports holiday of sorts.

Talking heads babble about which school reeled in the best football recruits, players snug their heads into fitted caps and alumni slap hands over the potential brewing within their school's newest pool of athletes.

Rarely, however, has this same attention and excitement passed through the Beaufort area, which is why Wednesday proved quite special for several local athletes.

By signing the dotted lines in front of flashing cameras and smiling relatives, Beaufort High School's Duane Chisolm and Jimmy Legree made their commitments to the University of South Carolina official, becoming just the fourth and fifth Beaufort County players in the last 12 years to join a Division I football program.

"It's unbelievable because you see people doing this all the time on TV, so now to be a part of it is just crazy," said Legree, who was the area's lone Shrine Bowl selection. "It feels good to know that now I'm that person."

Legree and Chisolm helped make up a class of nearly 30 others that was ranked in the top 15 nationally by Rivals.com. In this defensive duo, the Gamecocks are getting a defensive back in Legree who led the Eagles with three interceptions, four blocked kicks and two defensive touchdowns last year along with a defensive lineman in Chisolm who's recorded 19 total sacks in the last two seasons.

"I'm just really excited to be going to USC and happy that it's done," Chisolm said. "For me, their loyalty was the main thing because they stayed by my side even after I got hurt."

Indeed, injury almost derailed Chisolm's journey to Division I football. Six games into his senior season, the four-star player sustained a season-ending knee injury. Academic eligibility has also arisen as a potential issue, but Chisolm noted Tuesday that he is on track to qualify for fall enrollment.

Should this not be the case, Beaufort coach Mark Clifford said that Chisolm would have to complete several months at a prep school before enrolling at USC.

But Chisolm's hard work through adversity has helped keep the Gamecocks focused on the 6-foot-4, 250-pound lineman's potential, and also take notice of the other sprouting talent in Beaufort.

"It's good to see because all of this is opening doors for the upcoming kids," said Clifford, who saw former player Devin Taylor commit to USC last year. "But we don't care if they go to a Division one or Division two school -- our objective is to help these kids have the opportunity to further their education."

After what proved to be his biggest signing day as Beaufort High's football coach, Clifford pointed out that before 2008, the Eagles' last Division I player came in 1985, when Stacy Fields signed on to play at Clemson.

But as the success and surrounding attention grows among local schools, Clifford and his players know that one key in furthering these opportunities for future athletes lies in the performance of those before them.

"I know I've got to keep working hard, never give up, try not to get beat deep and do what my coaches have taught me," Legree said. "That way I can bring some of Beaufort up there to Columbia and for the rest of the country to see."

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