BRADENTON, Fla. — Going, going, gone.
Manatee High standout Ace Sanders, one of the most highly touted receivers in the country, left a lot of broken hearts behind Thursday when he verbally committed to South Carolina.
In the end it came down to South Carolina and the University of South Florida. He gave Gamecocks head coach Steve Spurrier the nod because he loves his high flying offense and the stage that the SEC offers. One of his desires was to play at the highest level possible.
Sanders committed four days after he returned from an official visit to South Carolina. He was scheduled to visit West Virginia this weekend, but canceled the trip.
“(South Carolina) recruited the daylights out of him,” Manatee head football coach Joe Kinnan said, “He would’ve been a good fit for anyone. He can catch and return kicks. They got a good one, and Ace was very mature about how he approached it. He didn’t make any visits to places he was not interested in going.”
The 5-8, 168-pound Sanders caught 64 passes for 913 yards and nine touchdowns (14.3 yards a catch). He averaged 32 yards on kickoff returns and 18 yards a carry on punt returns.
Spurrier was pursuing smaller and more elusive receivers compared to previous years, and Sanders, who will likely be used in the slot, filled that profile. Five of the Gamecocks receivers returning in 2010 are 6-2 or taller, but they have signed a 5-8 and six-foot receiver in the class of 2010 to go along with the Manatee four-year starter.
Sanders will be part of a young group of receivers, which should enhance his chance of getting early playing time. About three-fourths of the receiving corps next year will be comprised of sophomores and freshmen.
The 4.4 second speedster (40-yard dash) is the third player from Manatee County to sign with Spurrier in the past two years. Palmetto High’s Joe Hills played for the Gamecocks in 2008, but transferred to FCS (formerly I-AA) Tennessee State because of an over-crowded receiving corps. Manatee’s Ben Axon signed with South Carolina last year but never played for the Gamecocks and is now at Eastern Michigan.
USC fans are calling Sanders a coup for the Gamecocks. Among his best attributes are his speed, versatility and knowledge of the game, which he learned from his dad, Tracy Sanders, who played at FSU and is now an assistant coach at Manatee High.
Ace Sanders was very high on USF, but the recent coaching changes there that included the firing of head coach Jim Leavitt dampened his enthusiasm for the Bulls.
He was particularly upset when USF offensive coordinator Mike Canales, who was his main recruiter, was not retained by new coach Skip Holtz. His firing came on the same weekend Sanders took his official visit there.
“Coach Leavitt was a big reason why I was considering going to school there. I knew there was an investigation, but I didn’t expect that to happen,” Sanders said at the time.
Sanders also received offers from Miami, Purdue, Rutgers and Iowa State.