Josh Kendall

From 4 stars to fuzzy futures: Former USC saviors look for new homes

South Carolina returns from spring break on Monday to begin its second week of spring practice with three four-star quarterbacks on campus.

It would be quite a logjam for playing time, except only one of them remains on the football team. As rising sophomore Jake Bentley takes the snaps as the Gamecocks’ starter, former top recruits Brandon McIlwain and Lorenzo Nuñez remain enrolled at USC, planning their next move.

At separate times in the past two seasons, both McIlwain and Nuñez looked like they might be the future of the program and provided hope for a fan base yearning for a quarterback to embrace. Now they head into their own futures with Gamecock fans wondering what went wrong and where they will pop up next.

For McIlwain, it could be Baylor, Cal, Arizona or Virginia, according to a report by 247Sports.com. McIlwain is considering Baylor and Cal first, according to the report.

The Baylor connection doesn’t surprise Brian Dohn, a national recruiting analyst for Scout.com who’s based an hour from McIlwain’s home of Newtown, Pa. Baylor coach Matt Rhule was formerly the coach at Temple, a short drive from where McIlwain grew up. McIlwain’s mother recently posted a picture on Facebook of her son making a football recruiting trip to Princeton, but without any further details.

“I think people are waiting to see if he’s going to try to do football or if he’s going to try to do baseball or if he’s going to try to do both,” Dohn said. “The thing about his timing of it is he’s got to finish up (school) now. He can’t just leave. This will give him a good chance to see what shakes out in spring practices and see where he would be needed.”

At the moment, no one is saying if the two-sport prep star wants to continue playing both football and baseball, or concentrate on one or the other. McIlwain’s father, Roddy, didn’t respond to several emails seeking comment on his son’s plans. Will Hewlett, McIlwain’s private quarterbacks coach for the past nine years, didn’t return a phone call seeking comment.

McIlwain and Nuñez must finish the semester to remain in good academic standing in case they decide to pursue collegiate athletics further. USC’s online campus directory indicates both are enrolled in the spring semester at South Carolina.

USC coach Will Muschamp declined a request from The State to identify what restrictions, if any, he put on McIlwain and Nuñez for the future. Collegiate coaches can, and often do, bar a full release to certain schools, such as schools within the same conference or on a future schedule. Muschamp’s policy on releasing transfers varies from situation to situation, he said.

Dohn wasn’t surprised to see McIlwain leave South Carolina after losing the starting quarterback job to Bentley and not winding up in the Gamecock baseball team’s regular lineup.

“Jake beat Brandon out, and he decided he’d rather be somewhere else,” Dohn said. “Brandon is still a pretty young kid when you’re talking about quarterback, but in the realm of ‘It has to happen now,’ he’s thinking he’s going to get stuck with no playing time because of Jake Bentley and so, it really puts pressure on these kids to perform at their very best at the very beginning because there’s no room for development at a lot of places anymore.”

The 6-foot, 205-pound McIlwain was ranked a four-star prospect by every major recruiting service last year, but Dohn wasn’t 100 percent sure he would stick as an SEC starting quarterback.

“He had a great sophomore year. There were some questions about him after his junior year and then he had a really good senior season where he looked fantastic,” Dohn said. “It took me a while to make him a four-star, and not many people got to see him as much as I did because he’s only an hour from me. The question I always had and I wanted to see how it would play out was, ‘Did he have the height to do it?’ He was going to be a dual-threat kid, but I still thought he was going to throw more.”

McIlwain started three games for South Carolina last season, finishing his career 62 of 118 passing for 600 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, rushing for 127 yards on 63 carries.

Nuñez’s height was never an issue. The 6-3, 205-pound Georgia native signed with the Gamecocks out of Harrison High in 2015. He started two games at quarterback for South Carolina, against UCF and Missouri, and finished the season with 376 passing yards and 375 rushing yards.

He was moved to wide receiver last fall, but didn’t see the field. Nuñez and his family still are trying to decide if his future is at quarterback or wide receiver, a source with knowledge of the situation told The State. Nuñez’s former high school coach, Matt Dickmann, referred all questions about Nuñez to his father. Dell Nuñez briefly answered a call from The State, asking the reporter to call back and hasn’t returned two messages left on his cellphone.

For now, at least, South Carolina fans will have to keep wondering about the future of both McIlwain and Nuñez.

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