Josh Kendall

Pickens’ pick ‘sends a message’ about South Carolina’s recruiting

Clemson has beaten South Carolina five consecutive times on the football field.

On Dec. 19, the Gamecocks are expected to start a one-game, off-the-field winning streak against the Tigers that might help them reverse the dismal results on the field.

That’s the day Zacch Pickens, a five-star defensive line recruit from Anderson, is expected to sign with South Carolina on the first day of the early signing period. It will represent a coup of sorts for third-year Gamecocks head coach Will Muschamp because he’s taking a top target away from the Tigers, his in-state rival which is currently ranked No. 2 in the nation and headed to its fourth straight College Football Playoff appearance.

“To land the No. 1 player in the state when Clemson is playing at such a high level is big,” said Steve Wiltfong, director of recruiting for 247Sports. “Obviously, Will Muschamp is a defensive-minded head coach, but Clemson has had the best defensive line in college football for a couple years now. So for Zacch to want to be a part of building that at South Carolina is big. For South Carolina to get where they want to be as a program, they have to win more of these battles for guys like Zacch Pickens.”

Pickens will become the first five-star recruit to sign with South Carolina under Muschamp. He is the top-rated player in the state of South Carolina and the 18th-best recruit in the nation at any position, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings.

“I think it’s huge for that program,” recruiting analyst Chad Simmons said. “Steve Spurrier had his run with signing the top player in the state. For Will to get that back going and convince Pickens not to go Clemson, not to go to Georgia is huge for the program and really builds momentum. (Muschamp) has shown some good things there. He needs players though to take that next step.”

Pickens is projected to be one of those players. At 6-foot-5, 283 pounds, he is expected to begin his collegiate career at defensive end but could play in the middle of the defensive line as well.

“You’re looking at a 280-pound defensive end in a year or so who is going to be a terror to deal with,” national recruiting director Mike Farrell said. “He’s a really good player, and he’s just getting better and better. He has been shooting up our list even after he became a five-star. He’s got great size. He’s an athletic kid. He’s good against the run, but he’s an outstanding pass rusher as well. He uses a lot of power and strength to get offensive linemen off balance.”

Simmons calls Pickens “an early face-of-the-program type of guy.”

“He’s an impact kid immediately, at least we see it that way,” Simmons said. “I think mentally and physically he will come in ready to contribute at South Carolina right away.”

Pickens led T.L. Hanna to the state title game this year and had 82 tackles. He is one of the frontrunners for the state’s Mr. Football award, which will be handed out Saturday. During Spurrier’s best run with the Gamecocks, South Carolina signed four consecutive Mr. Footballs in the state.

“Spurrier used to get those guys all the time with (Marcus) Lattimore and (Jadeveon) Clowney, and it really did help in recruiting,” Farrell said. “It builds momentum. It sends a message to the rest of the Southeast.”

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Josh Kendall has covered SEC football for almost 20 years. He has covered the Gamecocks since the 2010 season. Have a question? Shoot him an email or find him on Twitter, and he’ll be happy to respond.