LAKE CITY | South Carolina beat out a number of other college programs for the dual-sport services of Lake City standout Shon Carson. It remains to be seen if the Gamecocks will win out over the money of Major League Baseball.
A day after USC shocked Alabama, Carson committed to play football and baseball in Columbia, choosing the Gamecocks over Clemson, Florida State, Georgia, Alabama and LSU. He is slated to play tailback for Steve Spurrier and likely center fielder for Ray Tanner.
However, the 5-foot-9, 200-pound dynamo may ultimately never suit up for the Gamecocks. If his senior baseball season next spring follows the upward trend of his career so far, he may be taken early enough in June's MLB draft to warrant turning pro and bypassing college altogether.
"They've got me projected from the first through the third round," Carson said. "I plan on going to school unless it's a life-changing amount of money."
Every player seems to define life-changing money differently. Carson said right now he'd put his number at $2 million or better. It might be a reach for Carson to earn that much — only 15 of the first 50 picks in the 2010 MLB Draft signed for $2 million-plus — but it would only take one team to fall in love with his skill set for it to happen.
Carson's stock is high enough in baseball that he earned an invite to the Under Armour All-American game at Chicago's Wrigley Field in August. An event that brings together many of the nation's elite players, more than 80 of the participants in the 2008 and 2009 games were eventually drafted after their senior seasons in high school.
"I imagine people will look at him in the leadoff spot," Lake City baseball coach Matt Apicella said. "He's just so dangerous on the bases. He's developed so much as a hitter with his discipline and pitch selection. Before he was just a free swinger with a lot of strikeouts, and now he's really settled in.
"We hear the whole gamut," Apicella said of the draft. "He had a tremendous summer last year, which really got his stock up. That's where a lot of the talk has come from. We've heard anywhere from the top-10 rounds to the top-three rounds. I know he wants the college experience. That's being pushed to him, so we'll have to see."
Carson batted .463 and was 51-for-51 on stolen base attempts for the Panthers last spring. He has 38 career home runs and more than 150 steals.
But Carson might be just as talented on the football field as he is on the diamond. He could fulfill a number of different roles at the next level. With great speed and underrated power, he is just as comfortable running between the tackles as he is on the perimeter.
He would immediately provide backfield depth for the Gamecocks, who could use extra bodies behind Marcus Lattimore. Carson, who has breakaway speed and the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, may fit best in a zone blocking scheme that would allow him to make one move and then accelerate upfield.
"He is 5-9, but Shon is a 200-pound kid," Lake City football coach Jim Rowell said. "A lot of people don't realize that. He carries a lot of weight in his hips and his legs. He's very strong in the weight room, he's very strong on the field and he runs very strong. Some people hear his numbers and say well he's a scatback, but I wouldn't say that's really accurate. He carries the ball between the tackles for us and is an extremely good runner inside."