During USC’s pro timing day last month, cornerback Fred Bennett had an impressive cheering section.
Bennett’s support group at Williams-Brice Stadium included two first-round NFL draft picks, a pair of starting NFL cornerbacks and the starting safety for the Buffalo Bills.
With the draft this weekend, the elite defensive-back division of USC’s Alumni Society is set to add another member.
“We’re a school that’s produced highly talented DBs. I’m just fortunate to be the next in line to go to the next level,” Bennett said Monday. “It’s just an honor to be on that list.”
The list features Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Sheldon Brown, Miami Dolphins corner Andre’ Goodman, Houston Texans corner Dunta Robinson, Cincinnati Bengals corner Johnathan Joseph and Bills safety Ko Simpson.
The common thread is garnet colored: All of the above played at USC, which appears to have the market cornered on corners.
“Those guys are in the NFL,” Bennett said. “That’s where I’m trying to get.”
The other common denominator among the six defensive backs is Jason Chayut, a New York-based agent who has developed a taste for Southern cookin’ since signing his first USC player five years ago.
Chayut’s initial USC clients were Goodman and Brown, bookend corners for the Gamecocks during the 2000 and ’01 seasons, the winningest two-year stretch in school history. Both players signed with an Atlanta agent before switching to Chayut.
“From there it just rolled,” Chayut said. “The one thing about both kids is that, off the field, they’re both great kids, and I think a lot of the younger guys looked at them as really setting the standard.”
Bennett said the USC ties lend a family-oriented atmosphere to Chayut’s agency.
“It’s one of those things where these guys trust each other,” Chayut said. “You have instant credibility because you have their close friends and peers and the guys they go to war with every week.”
Acting on an anonymous tip, USC’s compliance office last year looked into claims that Chayut used illegal inducements to sign the former Gamecocks. USC athletics director Eric Hyman said officials did not find any improprieties.
“Everything we’ve done is above board,” Chayut said. “One of the biggest things we pride ourselves on is ethics. The guys that break the rules don’t last long.”
In addition to Chayut’s stable of USC defensive backs, Bennett said he was equally impressed with the speed gains that many of the agency’s players made while training for the NFL combine. After preparing at a New Jersey training facility, the 6-foot-1, 198-pound Bennett had a strong combine workout that included a 4.46-second clocking in the 40-yard dash.
“I would have liked to have run in the 4.3 (range),” Bennett said. “But I think a 4.4, with my size, that’s acceptable.”
Bennett, who had nine interceptions as a three-year starter for the Gamecocks, is projected as a mid-round selection. USC had two defensive backs drafted last year, when Joseph went in the first round and Simpson was a fourth-round selection.
Chayut called Joseph, who ran the 40 in 4.31 seconds at last year’s combine, an “athletic freak.” As a rookie, the Rock Hill native led the Bengals with 19 passes defensed.
“He’s one of these kids that can get on the field and all of a sudden he’s doing things physically that other people can’t do,” said Chayut, who also represents former USC players Langston Moore and Na’Shan Goddard.
Robinson, a first-round pick in 2004, is a three-year starter for the Texans. Brown and Goodman, second- and third-round picks in 2002, respectively, have started in the NFL for several years.
Brown pointed to Jacksonville Jaguars defensive back Terry Cousin as the senior member of the Gamecocks’ fraternity of NFL defensive backs. The 32-year-old Cousin, who played for the Gamecocks from 1993-96, is entering his 11th NFL season.
Brown, who grew up in Fort Lawn, remembers watching Cousin play at Williams-Brice.
“He’s a guy that’s still around the National Football League. So it started long before me,” Brown said. “But the talent has always been here. Now you’re just finally getting coaching staffs in here to teach the guys the correct way to really play the game. Scouts are starting to see that.”