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Best in class: C.C. Whitlock

When C.C. Whitlock decided to get an early start on his South Carolina career, the two-way star from Chester did not realize how early the days begin for the Gamecocks.

Whitlock, who enrolled at USC in January after graduating from Chester High a semester early, said the biggest adjustment has been waking up at 5:30 for 6 a.m. conditioning sessions.

But the acclimation process has gone smoothly for Whitlock, who was encouraged to get a jump-start at USC in part to distance himself from potentially damaging influences in Chester.

How well has the transition gone?

The 18-year-old Whitlock wakes up without setting an alarm clock.

"I get my rest now because I don't want to be out there (and) be the one throwing up, cramping up," Whitlock said this week. "I go to bed early."

Whitlock, the Gamecocks' highest-rated recruit, returned to his high school Wednesday for a National Signing Day ceremony with several of his college-bound teammates.

"It'll probably be big," Whitlock said Tuesday. "But not that big since everybody already knows where I'm at."

Whitlock, who grew up a Gamecocks fan, took the suspense out of his college decision weeks ago when he chose USC over Clemson, North Carolina and Alabama. Chester coach Victor Floyd urged Whitlock to graduate early and move away from friends in his former neighborhood.

"Coach Floyd talked me into it. I was around a bad environment and he didn't want me to get caught up in none of that. So he was like, the best thing for me is to get on out of here in January," Whitlock said.

Whitlock, the second youngest of seven children, said he witnessed gang activity in the Mill Street area of Chester before his mother, Debra Whitlock, moved the family to a more stable neighborhood a year and a half ago.

"It was just around the neighborhood that I stayed in. Had people that's trying to pull me into it," Whitlock said. "You know how that is."

Floyd, the former C.A. Johnson coach, said concerns about a few of Whitlock's friends prompted him to map out a plan for him to graduate early more than a year ago.

"It's good to get a jump anyway," Floyd said. "But if you're in a situation that might not be enhancing to your future, it might be better to get to college and get around people that have the same goals that you have."

Whitlock rooms with Shaq Wilson and Jay Spearman, two other January enrollees. The three check each morning to make sure the others are awake for conditioning, although Whitlock said he has yet to hit the snooze on his body clock.

The question facing USC coaches is where to play Whitlock, ranked by as the country's No. 10 cornerback prospect. But the 5-foot-11, 175-pounder also amassed more than 2,000 all-purpose yards this past season while playing quarterback and receiver, in addition to returning kicks.

Whitlock said he would line up at corner and receiver this spring and let Steve Spurrier figure out where to use him.

"He really liked seeing me with the ball in my hands. He thinks I'm a Kenny McKinley type at receiver," said Whitlock, who expects to return kicks and punts. "So I told him I'll play some defense and I'll play some offense and I'll just let him (decide) what suits him." national recruiting analyst Jamie Newberg said once Whitlock adds a few pounds, "he has all the intangibles to be a great corner."

Whitlock, the cousin of former USC and current Cincinnati Bengals corner Johnathan Joseph, believes he could play sooner in the secondary, but will do whatever is best for the team.

Floyd expects Whitlock to flourish in Columbia — on the field and otherwise.

"He's come from a little crazy situation, but he's not a bad kid. He's overcome a lot," Floyd said. "It's probably a load off being away at school. He's going to do fine."