Wilson defensive end Xavier Thomas will be playing his senior season outside the Palmetto State.
Thomas, top prospect in South Carolina for Class of 2018, announced Monday night he will be playing his final year of high school at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. IMG has grown in stature in its football program over the last few years with 25 of its 26 seniors signed to play college football in 2015.
IMG finished this season at 11-0 and is ranked No. 2 by MaxPreps Excellent 25 and No. 3 in USA Today’s Super 25. Thomas flirted with the idea of going there for his junior season but decided to stay at Wilson.
Thomas is one of the most sought-after recruits in the country, and both Clemson and South Carolina are in the mix for him along with Alabama, Georgia, Florida State and Ohio State. He visited Clemson for Saturday’s game against South Carolina and has been to both Palmetto State schools several times this fall.
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“Me switching schools will NOT affect my college decision at all,” he tweeted.
Ryan Bartow, national recruiting insider for 247Sports, also doesn’t believe Thomas’ move will have an effect on recruiting and won’t give an advantage for schools like FSU and Alabama that are closer in proximity.
“Kids from Mid-Atlantic area that go to IMG, they wind up going back up that way to go to go college. It’s not a pipeline for any school,” Bartow said. “He grew up liking USC and Clemson is right there in the mix so that isn’t going to change it.
“I think it was more of a kid just frustrated with some things or has personal things going on. At IMG, he is going to be challenged every day. That is something he might not be getting right now.”
Thomas had 131 tackles and seven sacks this year for Wilson, which lost to Chapin in the first round of the playoffs.
Thomas said he will enroll at IMG in January.
IMG started as a tennis academy and has expanded to other sports including football and about half of its student body is made up of international students. It specializes in individual and year-round coaching and also such classes as nutrition. There are mandatory study halls, test prep and subject-specific tutors available.
The program is run like a college program with classes in morning and football in afternoon and more classes at night. There also are rules imposed by a high school association so athletes can train year-round with no restrictions.
Tuition for boarding-school players costs $72,900 annually, according to IMG’s website. Players can apply for financial aid.