USC Recruiting

‘A lifetime decision’: Arden Key picks LSU over the Gamecocks

Arden Key
Arden Key gmelendez@thestate.com

As South Carolina tries to hold onto to what was once one of the nation’s most highly regarded signing classes, two more prospects wiggled from the Gamecocks’ grasp Monday night.

First, it was three-star defensive back prospect Damon Arnette, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., native who had been verbally committed to South Carolina since July. Arnette announced on Twitter around 8:30 p.m. that he was changing that pledge to Ohio State.

“I want to thank everyone that helped me with this recruiting process, I really appreciate everything,” Arnette wrote. “I'm honored to say I'm officially committed to THE Ohio State University!”

Two hours later, defensive end Arden Key, who twice has committed to and then de-committed from South Carolina in the last 18 months, announced on Fox Sports South’s “Countdown to Signing Day” that he now is committed to LSU.

“Couple friends I know that attend South Carolina told me some stuff and I know people at LSU that told me some things,” Key said on the program. “That played a big part in it. I don’t have no doubt, regrets that I am going to LSU.”

Key made his final decision Monday morning he said and was so torn between the Tigers and Gamecocks that at one point he wrote each school’s name on multiple pieces of paper, put those pieces in a hat and drew them out to see which school he selected more often. LSU came out the most, he said.

New Tigers defensive coordinator Kevin Steele and defensive line coach Ed Orgeron made Key a recruiting priority when they were hired in January and were overjoyed by his decision, Key said.

“They were loving on me,” he said. “Everybody was jumping on me.”

A four-star prospect from Atlanta, Key first committed to South Carolina in 2013 before changing his mind twice.

“I am glad this process is over with. It’s been a long process,” he said. “This will be the hardest decision I ever make in my lifetime. This is a lifetime decision because I am going to want to come back and do more with the community of the school I attend.”

Verbal commitments are non-binding. National signing day is Wednesday. The decisions by Arnette and Key leaves the Gamecocks with 21 verbal commitments, to go along with the eight players who already have signed their letters of intent. The class is ranked the nation’s 18th-best in 247Sports’ Composite ranking.

The class once was ranked No. 2 in the nation by Rivals, but South Carolina has now had nine de-commitments, the most among any FBS team in the country this recruiting season, according to Rivals.com analyst Mike Farrell.

“I think anytime you don’t have the success on the field that a lot of people thought you were going to have it can somewhat effect your momentum in recruiting, and I think that happened a little bit for South Carolina this year,” ESPN national recruiting director Tom Luginbill said Monday.

South Carolina finished 7-6 this season after having won 11 games in each of the previous three seasons. Uncertainty surrounding Gamecocks head coach Steve Spurrier’s future, which Spurrier addressed first by saying he planed to be at South Carolina at least “two or three” more years and then saying he was “back on the four- or five-year plan,” added to the instability of the class.

South Carolina is hoping to get better news Tuesday from three-star defensive back Rashad Fenton, a Miami native who is believed to be on the brink of deciding between the Gamecocks, Louisville and Florida.

“I still think this class is going to be a sound (class),” Luginbill said. “I like it on the offensive and defensive line particularly. I think it’s got the hallmarks of a top 25 class. For a class that maybe could have developed into (an elite class) that wasn’t quite, I think they are still going to recover nicely when it’s all said and done.”

-- Staff writer Dwayne McLemore contributed to this article.

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