On Sept. 11, OrTre Smith gave South Carolina’s football team an emotional boost. The day before was Will Muschamp’s first loss as the Gamecocks head coach, a dispiriting 27-14 defeat at Mississippi State.
When Smith, a wide receiver who’s the No. 1 recruit in the state, according to 247Sports’ composite rankings, made his verbal commitment, it was a sort of salve on the wound and promise the future would be brighter.
Now, Smith wants to make good on that hope. He enrolled at South Carolina on Monday and will participate in spring practice with the Gamecocks.
“We are young,” Smith told The State in an interview at Wando High before his enrollment. “It’s going to be a lot of work, but we’re coming up. The recruiting class of ’17 is pretty good. With the worth ethic they have, we should be fine.”
If form holds, it will be more than a year before Smith makes any more public comments with Muschamp’s rule forbidding first-year freshmen from speaking to the media. Smith is the Gamecocks’ second-highest ranked recruit in this class. The 6-foot-3, 215-pounder is a four-star prospect who had scholarship offers from Clemson, Alabama, Florida State, Georgia, Notre Dame and Oklahoma, among others.
He chose the Gamecocks, he said, because of “the relationship I had with the coaches and the family feeling and just how I felt.” (North Carolina was his second choice.)
The prospect of early playing time didn’t hurt, either. Smith’s size and athleticism make him a good candidate to see the field right away in Columbia, especially with the Gamecocks desperate to fill a dearth of offensive playmakers and maximize the tenure of quarterback Jake Bentley.
“It was not a huge deal, but that’s always good to hear, even if sometimes it’s not true,” Smith said.
In South Carolina’s case, Smith believes it’s true.
“After witnessing it, seeing the situation, I was like, ‘Yeah, I could contribute early,’ ” he said.
He did at Wando, making his first start as a freshman. Smith didn’t do much that season, but his potential drew interest from recruiters, including Muschamp, who was then the coach at Florida and spoke with Smith at the school. Smith doesn’t remember what Muschamp said because the notion of being an SEC-level recruit hadn’t occurred to him at the time.
“I was like, ‘OK, I have to work harder now,’ ” he said.
That resulted in a 28-catch, 441-yard sophomore season and then his breakout junior year, in which he had 84 catches for 1,364 yards and 18 touchdowns. He was limited to 37 catches and 448 yards his senior season by an ankle injury that ended his high school career in the eighth game of the season.
“He’s certainly been a great ball player for us,” Wando High coach Jimmy Noonan said. “He’s arguably the highest recruit to come out of Mount Pleasant, S.C. His greatest asset is his physicality. He’s a very rangy kid, has great body control, great hands. He uses his body well. The biggest thing is his catch radius. He’s very forgiving to any young quarterback out there.”
Smith is such a physical player that South Carolina’s coaching staff told him they think he’d make a good college safety, although he will be a wide receiver when he arrives.
“He sees the field very well at the safety position, loves to come up in run support,” said Noonan, who played Smith on defense sparingly the past two seasons.
His position doesn’t matter, Smith said.
“They said I looked good at safety, but I think my main position is wide receiver right now, but I have no clue,” he said. “Just to contribute where I can help at.”
Wide receiver is where Smith will play because that’s where the Gamecocks need him the most, and he will pair with fellow recruit and friend Shi Smith to give South Carolina immediate depth at the wide receiver position behind Deebo Samuel and Bryan Edwards, the coaching staff hopes.
Muschamp began recruiting OrTre Smith to the Gamecocks before he was announced as South Carolina’s coach, Smith said.
“The new staff showed more love than the old staff, but (former wide receivers coach Steve) Spurrier Jr. did a good job of keeping me interested and motivated about South Carolina,” Smith said.
Muschamp and South Carolina’s new coaching staff recruited Smith “with everything they had,” Noonan said.
“A new staff coming on board, they are going to go for the big fish in the state, and Tre was top one or two or three in the state,” Noonan said. “Obviously, he fit a need immediately for the receiving corps.”
No. 1 players in South Carolina
A look at the No. 1 recruits in South Carolina for the past 10 years according to the 247Sports composite rankings. Where they went to college and how it turned out.
High school: Wando
Comment: Long and rangy, he could switch to safety.
High school: Spartanburg
Comment: RB got limited playing time as freshman.
High school: Orangeburg- Wilkinson
Comment: Backup at DT behind Carlos Watkins.
High school: Spring Valley
Comment: Backup to Ryan Anderson at linebacker.
High school: Goose Creek
Comment: Career hampered by multiple injuries.
High school: Lexington
Comment: Inconsistent, failed to meet expectations.
High school: South Pointe
Comment: Great career, now starring in NFL.
High school: Byrnes
Comment: Injuries cut short a brilliant career.
High school: South Pointe
Comment: Steady DB making big money in NFL.
High school: Bamberg- Ehrhardt
Comment: College star, but so-so in NFL so far.
Ortre Smith Bio
Position: Wide Receiver
Ht./Wt.: 6-4, 210
Hometown: Mount Pleasant
High school: Wando
Key stats: Caught 37 passes for 448 yards and two touchdowns at wide receiver while totaling 29 tackles and an interception as the starting safety before missing the remainder of the 2016 season with an ankle injury, which required surgery.
Honors: Named the Back of the Year by the South Carolina Football Coaches Association. He was a finalist for the Mr. Football Award. He traveled to the U.S. Army All-American Game in San Antonio but did not participate due to the injury.
Personal: His mother, Tashia Greene, played volleyball at Clemson from 1989-90.