South Carolina baseball coach Chad Holbrook believes early enrollee Brandon McIlwain has a chance to make an immediate impact on the baseball diamond this spring.
If the freshman from Pennsylvania is able to be a major contributor, most of his time over the next several months will be focused on baseball instead of football.
McIlwain was a potential first-round pick in the upcoming MLB draft before opting to attend USC and play outfield – and quarterback.
He arrived in Columbia with big expectations, and Holbrook and football coach Will Muschamp are committed to helping McIlwain live up to the hype.
“I don’t want to put too much on him, but the generic discussions are this: if he’s in our starting lineup, and he’s playing, he can go to football in his free time. If he’s coming off the bench for us or a substitute player for us and there are some football responsibilities for that day, that’s where he needs to be,” Holbrook told The State on Tuesday.
“That’s how we’re going to treat it as we go forward, and that was how it was when coach (Steve) Spurrier was here. It’s going to be the same situation with coach Muschamp, and that makes it easy for me, oach Muschamp, and it takes a lot of pressure off the kid. Ultimately we want to create an environment where he’s having fun at both facilities.”
Over the past few years Holbrook has had a couple of players attempt to play baseball and football without much success, but no one arrived in Columbia as highly rated as McIlwain.
Holbrook believes McIlwain has the makeup necessary to be successful in both sports.
“He has a great demeanor. He’s a talented kid, explosive athlete, and he keeps getting better and better every workout,” Holbrook said. “He’s a student of the game, he wants to learn, he wants to be coached, he wants to do well in the classroom. He’s a very responsible young man. He’s very well-mannered. He’s very coachable, and he has all the attributes to be a special athlete here at our university.”
While no one has had much luck playing baseball and football recently, there are past examples of success stories.
Jeff Grantz, who played football and baseball at USC in the 1970s, was named to the South Carolina Athletics Hall of Fame after being a second-team All-American quarterback and helping the Gamecocks reach the College World Series.
Grantz said being a two-sport star is a challenge but is possible with hard work.
He has not spoken with McIlwain, but said heis looking forward to meeting him..
“I would tell him to not rush things, learn everything he can as he goes, trust his teammates. ... Everything isn’t going to go great all the time,” Grantz said. “He has to be patient. I think he’s the kind of kid that will do that. I think he’ll do fine.”
Holbrook has also has reached out to USC basketball coach Frank Martin about what it was like to work with Bruce Ellington as he starred in basketball and football.
Ellington had successful stints in both sports at Carolina and is currently an NFL wide receiver.
“The reason I think Brandon can do it and succeed is he’s a very disciplined kid,” Holbrook said. “When I spoke to Coach Martin he said the same thing about Bruce Ellington, and he had some success obviously doing both… Brandon wants to be the best baseball player he can be. He wants to be the best quarterback he can be.”
McIlwain has been at USC since early January and has impressed his teammates and coaches. He was rated as the No. 16 high school prospect by Baseball America and is described as a five-tool player.
Still, Holbrook is trying to manage expectations and keep the pressure off of the would-be high school senior.
“Does he have a chance to help our team this year? Yeah, absolutely. How soon? I don’t want to put that kind of pressure on him and say, ‘Hey, you’ve got to get ready for Opening Day.’ That’s probably asking too much,” Holbrook said. “But he can certainly help us as we go forward.”
Five of USC’s best dual-sport stars:
1. Jeff Grantz
A middle infielder for the Gamecocks baseball team, he was the perfect quarterback for Jim Carlen’s veer offense.
2. Billy Gambrell
All-ACC playing RB, WR, KR and QB. “Billy was the best all-around athlete I ever played with,” Dan Reeves said.
3. Bruce Ellington
USC's top receiver in 2013 with 49 catches; starting point guard for two seasons, averaging 11.4 points per game.
4. Bobby Bryant
All-ACC, All-American as a DB; first USC pitcher to strike out 100 batters in a season.
5. Bill Rogers
Three-sport star who earned a total of nine varsity letters. Led football to 20-10 record in his three seasons.