Staring down his first season at South Carolina with a severe shortage of left-handed pitchers on his roster, Gamecocks baseball coach Mark Kingston made high school senior John Gilreath an irresistable offer: Graduate early and get a chance to compete for playing time immediately.
On Wednesday, Gilreath officially accepted the offer, signing his letter of intent to South Carolina and finishing a two-year-long commitment that survived coaching changes, a state title and a drastic change in plans.
Gilreath, who first chose USC in August 2015, back when the Gamecocks were coached by Chad Holbrook, announced that he would be enrolling early at South Carolina on Oct. 12. In doing so, he would be forgoing his senior season at Northwestern High School, where he had recorded an 11-0 record, an 1.33 ERA and won a state championship.
It was an idea he said Kingston and South Carolina’s coaches came up with, but one to which he was firmly committed.
“Coach Kingston and his staff just presented me with that opportunity, and when I evaluated everything that was going on, it was just one of those things where I wanted to take advantage of it and get down there and start my college career as soon as possible,” Gilreath said.
That being said, Gilreath did say things have begun to change as the end of his high school days comes closer.
“It started to become real, as signing day got closer, as graduation gets closer, it’s definitely gotten surreal,” he said.
As an early enrollee, Gilreath technically falls in between the recruiting classes of 2017 and 2018. However, he said he is eager to get to work and contribute immediately.
“I’m definitely going to have to go down and prove myself. It’s not just a given. I have to earn what I want to acheive. They’re not returning a whole bunch of pitchers but at the same time, they’re returning enough guys that I can learn from, which is exciting, getting to show my talents that I’ve worked so hard for,” Gilreath said.
On South Carolina’s pitching staff, Gilreath will join four other left-handers, all sophomores and freshmen who have never appeared in a college game.
Gilreath was joined in Wednesday’s signing ceremony by one of his fellow Northwestern pitchers, right-hander Wesley Sweatt, who is also committed to play for the Gamecocks, albeit next spring, meaning he still has one more year of high school baseball, a year he’s looking forward to enjoying now that the pressure of the recruiting process is over.
“I grew up a fan of (USC), I always wanted to play baseball for South Carolina,” Sweatt said. “Now that I’m signed, I don’t need to worry about trying to perform ... obviously I still need to perform to my best ability, but I don’t have that second set of nerves of trying to get a scholarship.”