Almost 20 percent of South Carolina’s 2013 signing class consists of linebackers, and it was the easiest 20 percent to persuade to be Gamecocks.
South Carolina signed four linebackers on Wednesday and bringing them to Columbia took little more than sliding the current depth chart across a table and asking them to imagine the possibilities.
Barring position changes, the Gamecocks will have two scholarship linebackers, a sophomore and a redshirt freshman, on the field for spring practice. A third, sophomore Cedrick Cooper, will miss spring drills while rehabilitating from knee surgery. Even if South Carolina moves someone from another spot, the opportunity for playing time in the fall will be great.
“Why would I want to go somewhere where they have freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors?” asked signee David Johnson of Lithonia, Ga. “I can go (to South Carolina) and show my stuff now and have a chance to start as a true freshman in the SEC.”
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That, in a nutshell, was South Carolina’s recruiting pitch to all the linebackers in its class. Linebackers Shaq Wilson, Reginald Bowens, Quin Smith and Damario Jeffery were all among the Gamecocks’ top 14 tacklers last season (Wilson and Bowens were first and third, respectively.), and all four have completed their eligibility. Chaun Gresham, a redshirt junior last year, participated in senior day last season, signaling the end of his career.
The voids left by their departure were too much for Johnson, Larenz Bryant of Charlotte, Skai Moore of Cooper City, Fla., and Jonathan Walton of Daphne, Ala., to pass up.
“Your opportunity to come play and play right now is as good as it’s going to get,” South Carolina recruiting coordinator Steve Spurrier Jr. said. “I think we’ve got guys in that position that are ready and hungry to go play. Certainly, when you have a lot of opportunities, it helps you (recruit).”
The lure of early playing time is a big reason Moore was willing to travel more than 600 miles from home and turn down a late scholarship offer from his “dream school,” the hometown Miami Hurricanes.
“My opportunity to go in there and play pretty early is a great one,” Moore said. “If I do what I have to do, I could be in there starting from day one. I am very excited to get over there.”
The Hurricanes offered Moore a scholarship the morning of National Signing Day, he said, while South Carolina offered their scholarship before Christmas, Moore said. He is not concerned that so many other linebackers signed in this recruiting class, he said.
“Honestly, it’s just an equal playing field right now,” he said. “I know we signed a few but there’s no advantage, it’s just whoever is the best player is going to play, and that’s something I am really excited about.”
The four incoming linebackers range from Bryant’s 6-foot, 215 pounds to Johnson’s 6-1, 250 pounds, and the Gamecocks will have to find out where each fits best when practice begins in August.
“Then you kind of find out how smart they are and who can learn the most — who’s the most ready to play,” Spurrier Jr. said.