Will Muschamp has managed to climb out of the large recruiting hole he inherited when he took the South Carolina job last month.
Two weeks before signing day, there are several signs the new coach has calmed the uncertainty stemming from Steve Spurrier’s abrupt mid-season resignation and the unsettled Gamecocks coaching situation at the end of the season.
Muschamp secured an early enrollment from quarterback Brandon McIlwain, who had nearly two dozen football offers was considered an early-round selection in next spring’s Major League Baseball draft. He shored up the pledge of talented in-state receiver Bryan Edwards, who decommitted last year and took a visit to Clemson before enrolling with the Gamecocks this month.
The coach also received a commitment to play from highly sought linebacker T.J. Brunson, a one-time Louisville commit who Muschamp visited at nearby Richland Northeast High School a short time after his introductory press conference last month.
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“It’s the season of the year for us,” Muschamp said. “Recruiting is every day.”
The Gamecocks had slipped in recruiting the past couple of seasons since a run of three straight 11-2 seasons between 2011-13. Eight players in the 2015 recruiting class decommitted, and things started to spiral down after Spurrier’s announcement and interim coach Shaw Elliott and South Carolina finished the season 3-9.
Muschamp let his coaching staff know the slide had to stop.
“Recruiting is about hard work, dedicating much of your day to it, dedicating a bunch of what you do to it,” said co-offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon. “And that starts from the head guy down.”
The class ranked in the 70s of the 247Sports Composite team recruiting rankings when Muschamp took over. On Thursday, the in-progress 2016 USC class was ranked No. 28 overall. That’s behind 9 other SEC programs.
It’s still an uphill climb for the Gamecocks, who went 10-15 the past two season after going 33-6 from 2011-13.
“You are what your record is. We were 3-9,” said a very blunt Muschamp.
Muschamp had a sense of urgency from the start.
The former Florida coach did not stick around for much back-slapping and hand shaking after his introduction as Steve Spurrier’s successor on Dec. 7. He took off to see prospects with newly hired running backs coach Bobby Bentley.
The rest of his assistants are also well versed in recruiting for in the Southeastern Conference.
▪ Defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson was at Florida and Auburn under Muschamp.
▪ McClendon worked with Mark Richt at Georgia and was the Bulldogs’ interim coach when Richt was dismissed.
▪ Assistant head Lance Thompson worked on national championship teams with Nick Saban at LSU and Alabama before joining Muschamp in guiding Auburn’s defense last season. Thompson was named the nation’s top recruiter on the Ultimate ESPN 300 recruiting power rankings in 2014.
Muschamp also added staffers with area connections. Longtime SEC assistant Ellis Johnson, who helped recruit Jadeveon Clowney in 2011, is not on Muschamp’s coaching staff but is helping organize recruiting efforts.
“We think we’ve got people who know what they’re doing,” Muschamp said.
Plus, a group that meshes well, McClendon said.
“Everybody here is team guys and that’s going to trickle down to the players,” he said.
Along with the six midyear additions to the roster from high school prospects, USC has a commitment from junior college cornerback Jamarcus King — ESPN rated King the 10th best JUCO player available. Plus, the Gamecocks return their top-tackler the past three seasons in linebacker Skai Moore, who had considered giving up his senior season and entering the NFL draft.
“We had some talks with Skai,” Robinson said. “We’re excited about Skai being back and continuing his development.”
Muschamp feels he’ll surround Moore and the other returners with new players able to get the Gamecocks back on a winning path.
“Whenever you get close here at the end, it creates a little angst with where you are and how you’re doing,” Muschamp said. “I feel OK where we are.”