South Carolina lost three games to end the season, then lost six assistant coaches in the weeks following the Clemson game.
But the Gamecocks did not lose their recruits, holding on to a large, well-regarded class despite turning over more than half of their coaching staff in the middle of recruiting season.
When the fax machine stopped churning Wednesday, USC had bagged a 29-player class ranked in the top 15 nationally and featuring several of the state’s top prospects. As of Wednesday evening, the Gamecocks were No. 12 in the Rivals.com and Scout.com rankings.
USC coach Steve Spurrier said that none of the Gamecocks’ commitments bailed when assistants were leaving at a steady rate was a sign of the program’s stability as he enters his fifth season still looking for an SEC championship.
“Obviously, we didn’t finish very strongly. We had some lousy games toward the end. But our players didn’t waver and they all signed up today. I think that’s a credit to our coaching staff,” Spurrier said. “Our guys really showed recruits that, ‘Hey, we’re going to be here and we can win at South Carolina.’”
The 11 South Carolinians who signed with USC include many of the top players in the state. The Gamecocks landed The State’s two top-rated players in Calhoun County receiver Alshon Jeffery and South Pointe cornerback Stephon Gilmore, and five of the top eight in the state.
Spurrier credited Shane Beamer, who took over as recruiting coordinator when David Reaves left for Tennessee in November, with convincing Jeffery to stay close to home. Jeffery committed to Southern Cal last summer, but Beamer continued to stay on him.
The payoff came Wednesday when Jeffery spurned the Trojans and Tennessee in favor of USC. Beamer called Jeffery’s recruitment a team effort, saying seven of the Gamecocks’ nine assistants made the trip to St. Matthews at some point.
As for Jeffery, Beamer praised the 6-foot-3, 220-pounder for staying humble.
“It would have been easy for a guy from Saint Matthews, South Carolina, who has all these people pulling at him and all this attention on him nationally, to become a different person and let it go to his head. He never did,” Beamer said.
“He’s the exact same young man — yes sir, no sir — that he was the day we offered him a scholarship a couple years ago.”
Some of the Gamecocks’ most talented recruits have been on campus for a month. The six January enrollees include Gilmore and South Pointe teammate Devonte Holloman, as well as Tampa tailback Jarvis Giles.
Spurrier said their presence was helpful during the recruiting weekends.
“It was good to have them already on board,” he said. “We had at least one-fourth of the class already here, which was good.”
The Gamecocks were efficient in their recruiting: USC signed 27 of the 31 players who came to Columbia for official visits. The other two were players who signed with USC last year but did not qualify — Fork Union (Va.) Military defensive linemen Chaz Sutton and Ronald Byrd.
Following Chris Smelley’s transfer to Alabama in January, Spurrier brought in lightly recruited quarterback Andrew Clifford from Tampa. But there is another potential quarterback in the class in Gilmore, a Parade All-American who rushed for 1,331 yards and passed for 1,771 in leading South Pointe to the Class 4A, Division II title.
“We’re going to double-train Stephon this spring. We’re going to give him a few plays,” said Spurrier, adding that Gilmore wants to play both ways.
“We’ll see how it works out. But he’s awfully good with a ball in his hands, so we’ve got to find a way to make that happen some, also.”
Reach Person at (803) 771-8496.