MANNING | Phillip Dukes didn't say much Wednesday, but he did say the words that South Carolina fans wanted to hear.
After landing a commitment from the soft-spoken defensive tackle from Manning, USC is now two-thirds of the way to its dream finish in the recruiting Class of 2011. Scott's Branch tight end Jerell Adams committed to the Gamecocks Monday and South Pointe defensive end Jadeveon Clowney would make the trifecta if he chooses USC on Valentine's Day.
The Gamecocks lost out to Clemson for the services of Marlboro County linebacker Lateek Townsend, but USC landed the other players it targeted in the Pee Dee: Dukes, Adams and Lake City tailback Shon Carson.
Considering Dukes' friendship with both Adams and Carson — the trio have spent years playing against and hanging out with each other — it wasn't a surprise to see him choose the Gamecocks. Dukes and Adams decided weeks ago that they wanted to eventually play together, and Dukes said Tuesday that he's known for weeks that USC was the place for him.
After telling the assembled crowd that he wished he could divide himself into parts and play for all four of his finalists, USC, Clemson, Alabama and North Carolina, Dukes revealed his decision in a prepared statement.
"The most important factor in my decision was where I would be comfortable and what enviroment felt like the family environment here at Manning High," he said. "I also wanted to go to a program where I would have the chance to be a part of something special. So with that, I would like to say hello to my new family, the South Carolina Gamecocks."
Dukes slid on a black USC hat amid cheers in the Manning library. The school has produced three SEC players in the last two years, but John Fulton and Dexter Morant ended up at Alabama and Georgia, respectively. The Crimson Tide are certainly a factor in the Clowney sweepstakes, but it doesn't appear they were ever a big contender for Dukes.
Dukes said his decision wavered between the Gamecocks and Tigers for several months. However, USC's recruiting efforts, which were led by recruiting coordinator Shane Beamer, began to gain steam last fall. Beamer's salesmanship and USC's success in 2010 were the difference, Manning coach Robbie Briggs said.
"If they had finished .500 or a little less, I don't know [where he would have gone]," Briggs said. "But I think some of the momentum they are getting right now is based on the wins that they had, especially the Alabama game. That was a huge win for them, and I think — he won't say that — that started making him think twice about Clemson and some other schools and leaning toward USC."
Before some of those signature wins that USC had down the stretch, Briggs felt like Dukes was headed to the Tigers. Instead he gives USC another big, athletic body on the defensive line.
The 6-foot-3, 295-pounder is already strong enough to hold his own against SEC offensive lineman. With 4.9 speed in the 40-yard dash and an ability to cut a backflip, he also has the rare blend of size and athleticism that often separates SEC linemen from those in other leagues. He projects as a 3-technique tackle, though he could be used at end in some packages.
Briggs called Dukes one of the best players in school history and said he'll have a chance to contribute as a freshman. Dukes, a four-year starter, finished his career with 289 tackles, 63 tackles for loss, 29 sacks and eight blocked kicks.
"I think he can play a 3-technique for them," Briggs said. "I can't speak for Ellis [Johnson], but like most of their defensive linemen, he can rush the passer and play the run. I think that's the difference between him and some of the other space eaters that play inside."