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Can a choirboy be USC’s savior at QB?

USC Quarterbacks Aramis Hillary, left, part of the Gamecocks 2008 recruiting class, and Chris Smelley chat during the Gamecock's practice, Wednesday, March 26, 2008.
USC Quarterbacks Aramis Hillary, left, part of the Gamecocks 2008 recruiting class, and Chris Smelley chat during the Gamecock's practice, Wednesday, March 26, 2008. The State

USC football coaches were so starved for a player like Aramis Hillary they could say, hey, we recruited a quarterback, not a choirboy.

The only hang-up? Hillary does not have character issues. In fact, he is a choirboy.

“I’m a lead background tenor,” Hillary said of his role in a small church choir in his hometown of North Augusta. His older brother Coco has a bigger role in the choir, which also includes Hillary’s sister and cousins.

So how does Aramis rate his singing?

“Not too well,” he said. “I kinda stay in the background a little bit.”

That might be tougher to do in the fall on the football field.

Hillary has yet to take a snap at a Gamecocks practice, might never rise above fourth on the depth chart and was not a nationally ranked recruit. Yet he has received as much attention in the offseason as any USC quarterback not named Stephen Garcia.

“Watch out for Aramis Hillary,” coach Steve Spurrier said this summer. “This young man loves football, and he loves everything about playing quarterback, loves South Carolina. So who knows what all’s going to happen this year.”

For his part, Hillary fits the part off a modest choirboy. Asked to compare his skill set to the other USC quarterbacks, the speedy Hillary claimed he’s not even the fastest. An exasperated reporter asked what Hillary brings to the table.

“I don’t know, man,” Hillary said with a laugh. “Hopefully, whatever coach wants, right?”

Hillary’s mobility is what appealed to USC’s coaches when they began recruiting the Strom Thurmond graduate.

Aramis inherited the starting quarterback job from Coco after playing receiver his first two season. (Their older brother, Antwaun, also played quarterback at Strom Thurmond and has been involved in coaching his brothers.)

USC assistant coach Robert Gillespie showed up at the high school one day last September, asking to see film of Aramis. Spurrier had noticed how many top-10 programs had mobile quarterbacks, and Gillespie decided it was the perfect time to talk about Hillary.

A few days later, Sawyer pulled Hillary aside in a school hallway. The player was scheduled to visit Mississippi State that Saturday and was thinking about committing to the Bulldogs. But Sawyer had heard from USC, which wanted to gauge Hillary’s interest if the Gamecocks offered a scholarship.

“I’d commit right then,” Hillary said.

Hillary’s uncle, Ira, played at USC, and Aramis grew up rooting for the Gamecocks. His older brothers dreamed of playing there but settled for Division I-AA scholarships, Coco from Appalachian State and Antwan from Catawba.

Aramis didn’t have to settle. He quickly committed.

“He bawled his eyes out, and it was a pretty incredible deal,” Sawyer said.

Hillary has been playing quarterback since the first grade. And though he does not have the strongest arm or even the quickest feet, “he’s just a natural leader,” according to Sawyer.

That would be put to the test if Hillary was to play as a true freshman. Sawyer would like Hillary to red-shirt but understands USC will see if there is an opportunity to “spot play” him.

Hillary is preparing as if he will play. He attended about half of USC’s spring practices, sat in on some quarterback meetings and has studied the playbook.

“I’m real excited about getting out there and seeing the speed of the game,” Hillary said. “That’s all you hear about when you talk to college players about the adjustment to the game. Other than that, it’s the same game, just in a different book.”

And if he is thrust into the spotlight, he says he is ready.

“I know there’s going to be some ins and outs and ups and downs,” Hillary said. “But every player goes through it. Every quarterback, definitely. It’s life.”

Spoken like a true choirboy.

Reach Emerson at (803) 771-8676.