USC lines up some protection
Lattimore is the star of class, but six linemen might hold greater key to success
02/04/2010 12:00 AM
03/14/2015 12:41 PM
For the past year, the dry-erase board in South Carolina's recruiting war room has included only one name under the running back heading.
And while the addition of Parade All-American tailback Marcus Lattimore propelled the Gamecocks into the top 25 on two of three main recruiting sites, it likely will be the offensive linemen who determine whether USC becomes a perennial top-25 program.
Lattimore, the state's Mr. Football from Byrnes, is the headliner of the 24-player class that includes nine instate players and no one from beyond the border states of North Carolina and Georgia and talent-rich Florida.
USC was No. 18 in ESPN's rankings. Rivals.com had the Gamecocks at No. 25, while Scout.com ranked them 34th.
As much as the Gamecocks targeted Lattimore to improve a rushing offense that has been the SEC's worst the past three seasons, they also needed linemen.
"It was a big need from day one," recruiting coordinator Shane Beamer said Wednesday.
USC signed six linemen - one-fourth of the class - including four whom Steve Spurrier said could play this fall: Bamberg-Ehrhardt's A.J. Cann, Ronald Patrick, Tramell Williams and Du'Von Milsap.
"We've got some freshmen here we think are big enough, strong enough to play next year," Spurrier said. "Those four are a little bit stronger than the other two right now and will have a chance."
The Gamecocks return three starters up front but lose a number of reserve linemen from their class of 2006 - the last time USC made the line a recruiting priority. And though Spurrier said Eric Wolford is "long gone" from USC, he praised the former offensive line coach for getting early commitments from the linemen.
"I'd be remiss if I didn't compliment Eric Wolford," Spurrier said of the coach, who left in December to take over the Youngstown State program.
When new line coach Shawn Elliott arrived in January, he hit the road to visit each of the Gamecocks' seven line commits within his first five days on the job. USC lost one of them when Calhoun County's Eric Mack switched his commitment to Auburn.
Beamer side-stepped a Mack question Wednesday, saying, "We got the six we wanted."
They also got the tailback they wanted - the only one they recruited.
With five returning tailbacks, Beamer said USC was not worried about a backup plan if Lattimore went elsewhere.
"If we didn't get Marcus, it wasn't like the cupboard was going to be bare," Beamer said. "We feel good about the backs in our program. But Marcus is a special player."
Spurrier said Lattimore's family is special, too.
During USC's home visit last weekend, Yolanda Smith, Lattimore's mother, found the "Cha-Cha Slide" on her computer and did the popular line dance with Spurrier and running backs coach Jay Graham in her kitchen.
"Jay was a lot better dancer than I was," Spurrier said.
Dance steps aside, Graham said Spurrier's easygoing nature with Lattimore and his family was critical in his recruitment.
"He did a great job in the house. I think that was the most important thing - that they had that comfort level," Graham said. "And I think that was the key factor in the whole thing."
Spurrier was impressed when Smith called him later that night to make sure the USC coaches made it back to Columbia safely on roads that were wet and in danger of getting icy.
"Wonderful family," Spurrier said. "(Smith) is a caring lady that has done an excellent job obviously of raising Marcus."
Spurrier said Lattimore would have a chance to start as a freshman, while Graham praised the 5-foot-11, 215-pounder for his pass-catching skills and his ability to run inside the tackles or cut outside.
But Lattimore's development could go hand-in-hand with that of the six linemen, whose arrival this summer will not generate the buzz that Lattimore will create.
Many of the linemen have been on campus attending USC's camp. Beamer said coaches were able to work with them individually and get a better evaluation.
Will it translate into wider running lanes and better pass protection? Coaches and fans will have to wait a couple of years to find out.
But Spurrier is optimistic.
"With these new players coming, I really believe we've got a chance in the next four or five years to be a lot better than we've ever been here."
Bamberg-Ehrhardt offensive lineman A.J. Cann
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