South Carolina’s 4-4 start to the 2014 season is far short of preseason expectations. Just don’t expect wins and losses to have much – if any – impact on the incoming recruiting class.
“When you don’t do as well, people say maybe you’ll lose some guys you got,” said Steve Spurrier Jr., the team’s recruiting coordinator. “No, we’ve been recruiting these guys a long time. It’s a strong group of guys. We feel good about all of them getting here in January and May and being the future of our program.”
The relationships built with the 28-member class are the strongest element that will help keep the class together, according to Spurrier Jr., recruiting analysts and the prospects themselves.
Where fans see challenges and struggles, players might see opportunity. That’s the case with as cornerback commitment Mark Fields.
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“I want to come in and be the difference maker,” said Fields, from Cornelius, N.C. “We’ve got some difference makers there now but I feel like I can come in and be that spark because I know what I bring to the table. I want to go in and help. I’m not looking to go anywhere else.”
The Gamecocks’ 2015 group had four commitments before the year 2013 was over and was nearly full when the 2014 season started. It remains a top five class with more than three months until National Signing Day.
USC lost a key linebacker commitment last week when junior college standout Davon Durant, originally from Greenwood, flipped his pledge to Arizona State. Durant did not cite wins and losses as a factor in his decision, saying he saw a better opportunity with the Sun Devils.
South Carolina could still add two to four more players to the class. Whether or not there are any more defections remains to be seen.
Atlanta-area defensive end Arden Key remains committed to the Gamecocks but will make a final decision between USC and LSU, he said.
“Yes winning/losing affects the strength of my commitment, and figuring out how long [Steve] Spurrier is going to be there,” Key said. “I’m looking at everything, seeing what best fits me.”
Several other commitments – including Antoine Wilder, Quandeski Whitlow, Sherrod Pittman and Damon Arnette – all expressed a desire to visit other schools before the Gamecocks’ season soured.
Coaching instability is a top reason prospects change their pledges, recruiting analysts said, but it’s not the only factor.
“There are so many reasons why kids decommit,” said Barton Simmons, recruiting analyst for 247Sports, “but I would say that simply on-field struggles aren’t usually the stand-alone reason. Now that’s not to say it doens’t happen. And even when it’s not the primary reason it can often play a role. But usually it’s more complicated than simply on-field performance.”
The recruits react
We asked each of these players: “Does USC struggling in any way affect the strength of your commitment? Or would it take something bigger than wins/losses?” These are there answers, taken in person, via text message or through Twitter.
... QB Lorenzo Nunez: “Not at all. I’m still 100 percent committed to South Carolina. Not having a good season doesn’t affect me at all.”
... RB Mon Denson: “Not at all. I’m just ready to be there so I can help try to win. They had a tough schedule this year. I still like them.”
... WR Jerad Washington: “Not at all, solid commitment to USC.”
... WR D.J. Neal: “It would take something bigger than wins and losses. I’m sticking with USC no matter what.”
... TE Kyle Markway: “It would take something MUCH bigger than wins/losses to make me think about it.”
... TE Connor Redmond: “It in no way affects my decision. I am 100% committed to the University of South Carolina. I believe when you commit somewhere, you commit.”
... OL Zack Bailey: “It’s bigger.”
... OL Jozie Milton: “Not at all. The team is young and in the toughest conference in college football. It would take something bigger than that to run me off.”
... OL Paris Palmer: “No it doesn’t at all. I can stand by my commitment even though USC is having a somewhat down year.”
... OL Christian Pellage: “There are many reasons why I chose South Carolina. They also have more games to go. They have a strong committed class so far for 2015.”
... K-P Joseph Charlton: “Hey, the fact that USC is struggling doesn’t affect the strength of my commitment at all. I will always be a USC fan and I will always hold on to my commitment to play for the Gamecocks. It’s still an honor to know I’ll be playing for the team I grew up loving.”
... LB Jalen Henry: “Doesn’t affect anything at all to me.”
... DE Shameik Blackshear: “Winning or losing doesn’t matter. I’m still 100%. We are taking losses right now so it makes it better for me coming in trying to get play time early.”
... DE Arden Key: “Yes winning/losing affects the strength of my commitment, and figuring out how long [Steve] Spurrier is going to be there.”
... DE Marquavius Lewis: “I’m still committed and it doesn’t affect me.”
... DE Quandeski Whitlow: “It’s about more than wins and losses.”
... DB Jaire Alexander: “No sir, it would take more than wins or losses.”
... DB Mark Fields: “I want to come in and be the difference maker. I want to go in and help. I’m not looking to go anywhere else.”
... DB Darin Smalls: “We’re a young team this year clearly and I'm not really shocked on how the season is going. We should have won a few more games but sometimes things just don’t go your way. This is a rebuilding year for Carolina and next season we’ll be right back in it. Just wait on it! Oh, and I’m also still a 100% committed to USC, nothing will change that. Go Cocks!!”
... DB Antoine Wilder: “Not at all. Takes something bigger than wins/losses! #SOLIDCOMMIT IM COCKY!”
(DID NOT HEAR FROM: RB AJ Turner; WR Jalen Christian; OL Austin Clark; DT Dexter Wideman; DE Dante Sawyer: LB Sherrod Pittman; DB Damon Arnette; ATH Octavis Johnson)
Recruiting analysts weigh in
We asked these national recruiting analysts and experts, “Do committed recruits want to decommit (do they consider decommitting) just because a team that was winning in recent years suddenly is struggling on the field?” Their responses:
... Woody Wommack with Rivals.com: “I don’t think on-field results in one particular year have an impact, especially if the coaches on the job are safe.”
... Keith Niebuhr with 247Sports: “You can’t really paint all kids with a broad brush. Some of them perhaps, but usually there are numerous factors involved. Coaching stability, increased interest from other notable programs, etc. Losing isn’t always a bad thing. For example, it may open the door for immediate playing time. So again, it usually goes beyond that.”
... Jamie Newberg with Scout: “It all depends on the kid and situation. They are all different. And [recruiting] times have changed. There are kids that decommit from schools like Alabama and FSU. No one is immune to losing kids. Players commit early. Some want to take visits to take visits. Some want to see other schools to make sure they made right decision. Some take other visits because they think the sky is falling. Of course, if there is a coaching change then anything is game. It all depends.”
... Adam Friedman with Rivals: “It might make them second-guess, but they fall back on the fact that they’ve built these strong relationships with the coaching staff and the players there. Players may see the struggles and feel like there’s more of a chance to contribute earlier. We’ve all seen what the Gamecocks have been doing this year. They need all the help they can get on defense. I don’t think there's a lot of panic among the players as much as there is among the fans. The players look at the game differently than the fans. They can see the youth and the fixable mistakes. The players feel they can come in and fix those.”
... Barton Simmons with 247Sports: “There are so many reasons why kids decommit, but I would say that simply on-field struggles aren’t usually the stand-alone reason. Now that’s not to say it doesn’t happen. And even when it’s not the primary reason it can often play a role. But usually it’s more complicated than simply on-field performance.”