SAN ANTONIO | Lateek Townsend approached the podium behind the left corner of the south end zone at the Alamodome. The lights from the NBC cameras glared in his eyes. It was time for him to choose between Clemson and South Carolina, but he still wavered.
“Right before I went to pick, my mom (Teresa) whispered in my ear ‘Clemson,’” the Marlboro County senior linebacker said. “Once I got that, I knew I was going to make a decision.”
With an LSU hat to his left and a South Carolina cap to his right, Townsend reached down the center and donned an orange Tigers lid. The selection stunned NBC announcer Lewis Johnson, who blurted out “South Carolina,” before realizing that Townsend had opted for the Gamecocks’ rival.
“That was a surprise, but I wouldn’t consider myself a high school insider,” Johnson said.
In recent weeks, many insiders considered Townsend a lock to attend USC. In the end, Townsend’s comfort-level with the Tigers coaching staff and Clemson’s small-town environment helped sway the nation’s No. 8 outside linebacker.
“At Clemson every coach recruited me hard,” said Townsend after finishing with one tackle as his East team beat the West 13-10 in Saturday’s U.S. Army All-American Bowl. “That’s (in) a rural area; I’m from a rural area. I didn’t want to go to a big city.”
Townsend grew close with Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele during the recruiting process. At Alabama in 2008, Steele lured All-Americans Rolando McClain and Dont’a Hightower to Tuscaloosa, which proved to Townsend that Steele has the ability to develop talent.
“He always said ‘I’ve got a plan for you,’ ” Townsend said. “Most of the time when I talked to coach Steele, he didn’t even talk football with me — he talked about life situations. He cared about me, instead of football.”
Goose Creek offensive lineman Brandon Shell also received significant playing time in Saturday’s game. Shell, the nephew of Pro Football Hall of Fame lineman Art Shell, said he remains firmly committed to South Carolina. The experience of spending the week against the top prep defensive linemen in the nation will be extremely valuable for preparing to play in the SEC, Shell added.
“This week helped me with the competition I faced,” Shell said. “I have to get back in the weight room.”
South Pointe defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, the nation’s top ranked-recruit, still remains uncommitted. He still has South Carolina on his list, though he said recently he's no longer considering Clemson.
“I’m going to work on him once I get back to town,” Townsend said.
This week Townsend was back and forth on whether or not he would make an announcement at Saturday's game. Even Friday night, Townsend posted on his Facebook page that he would not decide Saturday. He said he needed more time to think and would wait until Signing Day.
Townsend could have become the first Marlboro County player to sign with USC since Syvelle Newton. However, it appears another Bulldog will end up at Clemson instead.
Marlboro County coach Dean Boyd said in November there is not a divide between Bennettsville and Columbia.
“You get diehard Clemson and diehard Carolina fans who think you are pushing you’re kids this way or you’re pushing your kids this way,” Boyd said. “It’s not about that. It’s about fit. It’s about what Carolina needs at the time and what we have and what Clemson needs at the time and we have. This is the first one (Townsend) we’ve had since Syvelle that both of them needed.
“We had two last year that were Division I talents and South Carolina didn’t offer either one. It’s not so much that we missed the boat with them, it’s just sometimes it’s what they need and sometimes it’s not what they need. This is the first one we’ve had they’ve really been interested in since Syvelle. So, it’s really not that we haven’t had anyone sign with them. There hasn’t been any interest."