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USC not backing down in 'Bama

South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward talked recently about how hard it is to go into Alabama and pull prospects away from Auburn and Alabama.

Ward should know.

After his final high school season in Greensboro, Ala., in 1985, Ward planned to go to Georgia Tech. But Alabama assistant coach Sylvester Croom, who 20 years later would become the SEC's first black head coach at Mississippi State, swooped in and convinced Ward to play for the Crimson Tide.

So Ward, who recruits the state of Alabama for USC, understands he has to pick his battles.

"You've got to spot-recruit Alabama. Because if there's an area where Alabama and Auburn have success in, you're not going to get them out of there," Ward said. "I understand how the state works."

The Gamecocks hope their five-day stay in Birmingham, Ala., for the Papajohns.com Bowl will open some doors in a football-crazed state within a half-day's drive of Columbia.

"I don't think it ever can hurt," said Ward, a safety for the Crimson Tide from 1986-89. "You're in Alabama and Auburn territory. But any time you can get exposed and it doesn't cost you anything other than going to a bowl game, kids will find out about you. And they can't get all the good players over there. So it should help us a little bit."

Most of the players USC has plucked from Alabama in recent years have come from Mobile or Huntsville. Former Gamecocks assistant coach Ron Cooper, now at LSU, grew up in Huntsville and was responsible for bringing starting safety Darian Stewart to USC four years ago.

Stewart, a three-year starter from Huntsville, said he was the exception among the state's top players, the majority of whom stay in state on either side of the Iron Bowl rivalry.

Consider the current crop of blue-chip prospects in Alabama - 11 of the top 13 recruits have committed to Auburn or Alabama, according to Rivals.com.

Another remains uncommitted, while defensive back Desmond Brown - the state's 10th-ranked prospect - plans to play at Clemson. Tigers coach Dabo Swinney is an Alabama native who played with Ward for the Crimson Tide.

Ward is recruiting athlete Chris Davis from Birmingham, although Davis recently committed to Auburn.

Ward can relate. Asked what led him to change his mind about Georgia Tech "at the last minute," Ward cited Croom's influence.

"He's a great Christian guy and he was steady in what he did," he said.

USC special teams coordinator Shane Beamer said the Gamecocks will stay steady in a state that produced current players Stewart and safety Jarrett Burns and former players Jordin and Dustin Lindsey, Captain Munnerlyn, Heath Batchelor and Chris Smelley.

"Alabama needs to be a good area for us. We've gotten a lot of good players out of Alabama," Beamer said. "Obviously, with most of those players in that state you've got to battle Alabama and Auburn. But we ought to be able to get over there. It's a great state for high school football. It's got great programs and coaching. We'll get in there and battle those guys and try to get our share."

During their week in Tampa for the Outback Bowl last year, the Gamecocks played host to a number of recruits and their families at practice, including tailback Jarvis Giles. Beamer hopes area coaches will come out and take a look at USC while the Gamecocks are in Birmingham in the shadow of the state's two giants.

"We're not going to concede anything," Beamer said. "When we go into Georgia, just because a coach tells me that Georgia's offered him, doesn't mean I'm going to stop recruiting that guy. We've got as much to sell here as anybody. With the people in this program and where we are right now, we don't go in with the idea of taking a back seat to anybody."

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