Stuck out on Hwy. 701, not quite in North Carolina and not exactly near the beach, Loris, S.C., is hard to find. It’s one of the reasons nobody found Temarrick Hemingway.
At least nobody in FBS football found him. Hemingway spent most of last week not in Loris, but at Lucas Oil Stadium for the NFL Combine, which means professional talent evaluators judged him one of the 300 or so most intriguing prospects in the country.
Hemingway didn’t play at South Carolina or at Clemson or at any other major college football program in the country, which simultaneously illustrates one of the most promising and most difficult things about South Carolina coach Will Muschamp’s new job.
There are talented football players in the state of South Carolina, but a lot of them are hard to find.
“There’s really a lot of unidentified talent in South Carolina that people don’t really get to see,” Hemingway said. “I know me growing up, I wasn’t blessed with a lot of financial resources, so I couldn’t go to the big-time camps. So, a lot of talent in South Carolina goes unnoticed because of that.”
Hemingway would’ve been easy to miss from a quick scan of the North Myrtle Beach High roster. Six-foot-five, yes, but at only 180 pounds as a tight end, he didn’t look on paper like the kind of player who could help a big-time college football team. In flesh and blood, however, Hemingway’s athleticism is striking, and it’s especially intriguing now that he’s 244 pounds.
“Fluid, graceful gait with long, easy strides,” Hemingway’s NFL.com profile reads. “Has short area movement like a basketball player. Nightmare matchup for linebackers.”
Sounds like the kind of player Muschamp and his staff would love to have had for four years. The challenge for the Gamecocks’ coaches is covering the state of South Carolina so well they don’t miss players like Hemingway.
“You gotta work and you gotta go eyeball them and see them,” Muschamp said. “It’s rolling your sleeves up, going out and evaluating, seeing if they fit.”
South Carolina’s nine assistant coaches all have responsibilities for different areas of the state, and those coaches will be required to visit every high school in their area this spring for recruiting purposes. On average, that’s more than 25 schools per coach and some of those schools aren’t easy to find.
The state reminds Muschamp of another state he used to call home – Louisiana, where he was an LSU assistant coach from 2001-2004.
“I really liken the state of South Carolina to the state of Louisiana,” he said. “There are pockets in our state that are very difficult to get to. A lot of guys go unnoticed because it’s hard to get there. A lot of other schools aren’t coming to those places.”
The numbers show the players are there for whichever school can find them. The 24th-largest state in the country, based on population, the Palmetto State ranked second in NFL players produced per capita based on a study of 2014 rosters by USAFootball.com. (South Carolina produced one for every 84,089 residents, while Louisiana finished first with one for every 76,837 residents.) Historically, the state’s had 409 players on NFL rosters, according to a study by NFLSavant.com.
Muschamp had been on the job a week when he saw a dramatic illustration of the talent produced by the state – and his challenge in finding and recruiting it. He attended the Carolina Panthers game against the Atlanta Falcons on Dec. 13 and saw seven South Carolina natives on the two team’s rosters.
“One played at Clemson. None of them played at South Carolina,” Muschamp said.
The best of the bunch, cornerback Josh Norman, an NFL Pro Bowler, went to Coastal Carolina. Muschamp’s thought: “Let’s do a good job of evaluating our state, because there are some good players in our state.”
Despite multiple coaching stops in the region, Muschamp never had a dedicated recruiting territory in the state of South Carolina until he became the Gamecocks coach, so he has spent the last two months familiarizing himself with the state’s geography.
“I didn’t know a lot about the locations of where players had come from. Now I have a much better feel for it,” he said. “I think the high school football in this state is outstanding. You can see the school systems put a lot into it. That’s how you get good coaching, because you pay well.”
Former South Carolina running back Brandon Wilds, a Blythewood native who also is at the Combine, can still remember the schedule gauntlet his Bengals faced in his high school career.
“Jadeveon Clowney, Stephon Gilmore, Gerald Dixon, all those guys were on the same team,” Wilds said. “And then the next week we would go and play Gerald Dixon Jr. with Justin Worley and Cordarrelle Patterson.”
“A lot of people talk about Florida or California, even some northern states, but as a whole in South Carolina, I know there are a lot of great players in South Carolina that are overlooked,” Wilds said.
Former Gamecock Brandon Shell, a Goose Creek High graduate also here for the Combine, points out that identifying the talent in South Carolina is only part of the equation for his alma mater.
“South Carolina is not big like a Florida or a Georgia or a Texas, but we have the same caliber of players that come out of South Carolina that those other states have,” Shell said. “We have people that go elsewhere and play and shine over there, but if we can get a lot of South Carolina players to stay in state, we’ll be a force.”
The 10 best players from South Carolina in the NFL this past season who didn’t play for the Gamecocks:
College: Coastal Carolina
Hometown: James Island
Hometown: Calhoun Falls
College: Florida State
Hometown: North Charleston
College: Boise State
Hometown: North Charleston