South Carolina coaches faced an unfamiliar speed bump as they set out on the class of 2014 recruiting trail.
Where are the scholarships?
The Gamecocks on Nov. 30 honored five scholarship seniors before their final home game – Connor Shaw, Chaz Sutton, Jimmy Legree, Ronald Patrick and David Wilkins. Their five spots have been the starting point for the stars of tomorrow who will sign with the Gamecocks in February, but it’s 10 to 15 fewer scholarships than coaches normally have to work when looking ahead.
“It changes the way you recruit,” said Steve Spurrier Jr., the team’s recruiting coordinator. “Last year we had 20 or 22. That’s a big base to start with. You can put 22 on the board. When you start with five and wait to see what happens, it gets a little trickier.”
Going through the process with five known available scholarships impacts several recruiting strategies:
1. Coaches are even more selective in which high school players are offered and with which ones get recruited the hardest for a commitment. According to 247Sports, South Carolina has extended 152 verbal offers for the class of 2014, the fourth-fewest in the SEC behind LSU (125), Georgia (119) and Texas A&M (101). Tennessee leads the conference with 285 offers.
2. A prospect’s academic outlook is magnified. Taking a commitment from someone who may not qualify academically becomes riskier when that could lead to an unfilled spot.
3. The Gamecocks also don’t want to sign too many or too few prospects with the final scholarship numbers being anyone’s guess.
“The numbers are low,” Spurrier said. “It’s really changed the way we focused in on this class, not being real sure what our numbers are going to be, and then trying to make sure we sign the numbers we have.”
South Carolina won’t see relief next year from the 2012 NCAA sanctions that still affect how many players can be on scholarship. The Gamecocks will have 82 spots available for the 2014-15 academic year. The shift back to the full 85 scholarships happens with the class of 2015 and the 2015-16 year.
Meanwhile, the class of 2014 grew to 15 last week when Chapman High wide receiver Tyshun Samuel pledged to play for the Gamecocks.
More commitments are expected in the coming two months, with the Gamecocks in hot pursuit of prospects such as Havelock (N.C.) running back Derrell Scott, Suwanee (Ga.) defensive end Dante Sawyer and Georgia cornerbacks Wesley Green and D.J. Smith.
The final tally should be in the neighborhood of 18 to 20 signees, but that won't be official until National Signing Day on Feb. 5.
How the Gamecocks find a dozen or more available scholarships will play out in various forms of player attrition between now and when the class of 2014 starts to arrive in June.
In fact, that process is already under way.
On top of the five seniors, juniors Jadeveon Clowney, Kelcy Quarles and Victor Hampton are all expected to enter their names for the NFL Draft after the bowl game. South Carolina will also gain three scholarships from the departures of cornerback Ahmad Christian, kicker Nick St. Germain and offensive lineman J.P. Vonashek.
That would put the team at 11 available scholarships, with other player transfers likely and the possibility that more juniors could decide to turn pro.
The scholarship crunch is testing the old recruiting adage: The numbers always work out.
“It’s one of the more inexact sciences that you can get involved in,” Spurrier said. “You never know until it’s over. You have to hang on and press on to recruit and sign the best players you can.”