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Receivers not catching on

South Carolina wide receiver Matt Clements is hit by Vanderbilt cornerback D.J. Moore in the second quarter during the Gamecocks game against Vanderbilt at Vanderbilt Stadium on Sept. 4.
South Carolina wide receiver Matt Clements is hit by Vanderbilt cornerback D.J. Moore in the second quarter during the Gamecocks game against Vanderbilt at Vanderbilt Stadium on Sept. 4.

Since All-SEC receiver Kenny McKinley went down with a hamstring injury three weeks ago, South Carolina has struggled to find a deep receiving threat.

It has not been for a lack of candidates.

In February 2007, the Gamecocks signed a wide receiver class that Rivals.com ranked the best in the country. With that No. 1 billing came high expectations for the group, which to this point has failed to deliver.

Of the seven receivers USC brought in last year, one failed to get in school, another moved to defense, one is now a tight end and several remain works-in-progress.

The only member of the class to make a significant impact — at least on offense — has been Dion LeCorn, a possession-type receiver who has 40 receptions in 14 career games.

But the Gamecocks plan to stick with their second-year receivers.

“They just need to get opportunities and need a chance to play well,” USC receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. said. “They’re going to be all right. I’m staying positive with them.”

Spurrier Jr. said receiver is a position where talented players should make an early impact because, unlike linebackers and linemen, their bodies do not have to develop physically before they can play.

“Receivers should be guys — it usually takes them a little while just to adapt to school and life and all that stuff — but usually after a year or two they should be ready to go play,” said Spurrier Jr., who played receiver at Duke from 1990-93.

Spurrier Jr. said the Gamecocks’ No. 1 ranking in 2007 was inflated because USC signed so many receivers. None of the other teams in Rivals’ top 15 receiving classes landed more than four receivers.

Not all of USC’s signees play the position anymore.

Chris Culliver, the only five-star recruit in the class, starts at free safety after switching positions in the spring. Larry Freeman, the lone junior college transfer among the Class of ’07 receivers, is a reserve tight end after a short stint on defense.

Michael Bowman enrolled at East Carolina after he was denied admission at USC.

But the core of the class remains, albeit without distinction.

Matt Clements began the season as McKinley’s backup, but has since spent time on the scout team. In recent weeks USC has tried to get Jason Barnes and Joe Hills, who have four career catches between them, more involved.

Hills’ two catches against Wofford were good for first downs; Barnes has one catch in limited action.

“We’ve kind of struggled to get a lot of balls to those young receivers. But we’re going to play them,” said USC coach Steve Spurrier, who might start Barnes against Alabama-Birmingham.

Barnes said players feel no pressure to live up to the expectations that come with the lofty billing.

“We don’t really think about it,” Barnes said. “We don’t believe we’re better than anybody else. We believe that we work hard and can go play just like everybody else.”

LSU, which was No. 2 on Rivals’ list of ’07 receiving classes and No. 1 according to Scout.com, has had more success with its highly-touted receivers than USC. Junior college transfer Demetrius Byrd led the Tigers with seven touchdown catches his first year in Baton Rouge, while Terrance Toliver made the SEC’s All-Freshman team after averaging 24.9 yards per catch.

North Carolina, Rivals’ No. 3 receiving class two years ago, has had few chances for its young receivers because of its wealth of experienced players at the position. Charles Brown and Brian Gupton moved to cornerback, while neither Dwight Jones nor Rashad Mason has a catch this season.

Spurrier Jr. believes there are more accurate measures of talent than recruiting rankings.

“I put stock in when they rank how your receivers are in your conference. And actually, I put a lot of stock in year to year (results). Because your first year, it’s based on who you have. But after that, it’s based on what they’ve done,” he said.

“If you’ve got a number one class in recruiting, it usually means you signed a bunch of guys at that position. And we did. We had a big number of guys that were all highly rated guys.”

And though none has gotten off to a flying start, Spurrier Jr. thinks the ’07 receivers eventually will leave their mark.

“I believe all these guys got a chance to contribute and be good wide receivers for this program. I absolutely do,” he said. “I haven’t given up on any of them, yet.”

Reach Person at (803) 771-8496.

RECEIVERS RATED

Rivals.com rated USC’s wide receiver recruiting class of 2007 as the best in the nation. Four games into their second season, how have they done?

Jason Barnes

Redshirt freshman

2007: Saw action in first four games, including starting at LSU when he injured his foot and spent most of rest of season on crutches. Had one catch vs. S.C. State for 34 yards

2008: Voted most improved wide receiver in spring, he has one catch of 12 yards in three games.

Mark Barnes

Redshirt freshman

2007: Started season at defensive back, but was moved to wide receiver and had two catches for 12 yards and a touchdown vs. S.C. State. Applied for medical redshirt with shoulder injury.

2008: Switched to strong safety in the spring and entered fall as backup to Emanuel Cook, but has played sparingly.

Matt Clements

Redshirt freshman

2007: Played in two games, but was hampered by a knee injury.

2008: Has not caught a pass this season. Now on scout team.

Chris Culliver

Sophomore

2007: Did not catch a pass, but started at wide receiver against Tennessee. Made All-SEC freshman team as a kick returner, returning 34 kicks for 809 yards.

2008: Moved to free safety in the spring and earned the starting job there in the fall. Is averaging 23.8 yards per kick return.

Larry Freeman

Senior

2007: Juco transfer played in 11 games with two catches for 30 yards.

2008: Is a reserve tight end after a short stint on defense. Does not have a catch this season.

Joe Hills

Redshirt freshman

2007: Appeared in just one game and had no catches. He had a knee injury.

2008: Started against Georgia and played against Wofford. He has two catches for 23 yards.

Dion LeCorn

Sophomore

2007: Named to Freshman All-SEC team by The Sporting News after catching 27 passes for 315 yards and three touchdowns. He started six games, including vs. Arkansas when he had eight receptions.

2008: He has 13 catches in four games, averaging 24.5 yards a game. He is USC’s second-leading wide receiver, behind Moe Brown.

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