The first week of 2014 brought more stress than Jacob August anticipated for the start of a new year.
The former Cardinal Newman standout had opportunities to walk on to the football teams at Penn State and South Carolina. His sights were set on the Nittany Lions, but uncertainty about the coaching staff caused August to rethink his future.
The 6-foot-6, 250-pound tight end now is a Gamecock after he started classes at USC last week.
“I couldn’t sleep at night,” he said. “I just couldn’t decide. I was going back and forth between both schools because both are excellent. When I finally decided, it really felt like a weight was off my shoulders.”
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August joins South Carolina as a preferred walk-on, which allows him to practice in the spring and when preseason workouts begin in the summer. He had walk-on offers out of high school from USC and Georgia as a punter, but he wanted to play tight end.
He spent a semester at Fork Union (Va.) Military College to help transform his body in the weight room and boost his skills on the football field. August said he accomplished everything he wanted from his time at prep school, growing two inches taller, adding almost 50 pounds and improving as a player.
“I got stronger, and I matured,” he said. “It was really me maturing into my body, seeing that I can actually gain a lot of weight and have the right body type for it. I love catching the ball. I wanted to be a receiver, but I knew I wasn’t fast enough. I had to learn how to block too.”
August also reached a goal to increase his stock as a prospect and play major college football.
Playing at Fork Union — where he caught more than 20 passes and two touchdowns — put August in the spotlight for recruiters. Coaches liked his size, athleticism, pass-catching skills and route-running, he said. Scholarship offers followed from Southern Miss and Temple. A dozen or more offers came from FCS schools.
August dreamed bigger.
“I think Jacob turned down some of these full rides because of the potential he has,” Cardinal Newman football coach Brannon Tidwell said. “I always thought he had the potential, if he worked out for four years, to be a great tight end or left tackle. He has a huge frame on him. He’s a legit 6-foot-6 with shoes off. His upside is big.”
Tidwell coached August his senior season with the Cardinals. He played receiver, punter, kicker and some defense.
“When I met him, he was 6-4, 200 pounds,” Tidwell said. “The weight program at Cardinal Newman wasn’t great. He wasn’t putting on a lot of weight and lifting the way he should. He needed another year to hit the weight room. He needed that extra year of high school.”
August took official visits to Southern Miss and Temple and unofficial trips to USC and Penn State. He committed in December to join Penn State as a preferred walk-on after the Nittany Lions were limited in scholarships from the Jerry Sandusky case. The plan was for him to go on scholarship after one season.
He built a strong relationship with the Penn State coaching staff and was attracted to an offense that featured three tight ends. Nittany Lions tight ends had 60 receptions in 2013. USC completed passes to tight ends 32 times, down from 41 in 2012.
Commitment turned to uncertainty, however, when Bill O’Brien left Penn State coach for the NFL’s Houston Texans on Dec. 31. August also needed a decision in place to enroll somewhere in January.
“Just because I was a walk-on, a new coach could come in and not know I existed because I don’t have the ‘scholarship’ label,” August said. “And he probably wouldn’t run the tight end set I would like, which is what attracted me. When I realized the coaching situation would be a huge problem, I buckled down and said, ‘I really need to go to South Carolina.’ ”
The Gamecocks — Steve Spurrier Jr. in particular — stayed in touch throughout the process. After he decided against going to Penn State, August also heard from Notre Dame, Miami, Duke and Vanderbilt.
He already was set on USC, where he will also get a chance to punt, he said. He spoke with both Spurriers and informed them of his decision.
“They said I’ll have every opportunity to play my freshman year,” August said. “They’ll throw it to me a lot in the spring and see what I can do. I’ll get a lot bigger at USC, which is really good.”
August has his full collegiate eligibility remaining, and the Gamecocks’ recruitment of him for a walk-on role is a good sign, Tidwell said.
“I think they see the potential and that this kid can make a difference for them,” he said. “I’m really proud for him and excited to come watch him in the spring. Everything happens for a reason. If he works as hard as he can, he’ll be a good football player for them.”