South Carolina’s Signing Day press conference this afternoon included the following exchange, of sorts, between head coach Steve Spurrier and his son, wide receivers coach/recruiting coordinator Steve Spurrier Jr.
“Wherever we were ranked (as a team), we maybe weren’t in on a whole bunch of real top-notch, high, five-star guys this year,” Spurrier said. “Hopefully next year, maybe we’ll be in on some of those kind of guys.”
“Yes, sir,” Spurrier Jr. said quietly.
Now, Spurrier didn’t look at his son when he said this, but it pretty much captures Spurrier’s attitude toward Signing Day. Which is to say, he believes it is important, though not the end-all, be-all for a college football program.
Coming off back-to-back, program-best 11-2 seasons, Spurrier didn’t feel the need today to pump up a very solid class, though one that lacked star power. In fact, he came right out and basically said he didn’t feel the need to pump it up, said he thought it was very solid, and said it lacked star power.
USC’s Signing Day festivities, as they were, did not include a band or cheerleaders or the mascot or even an on-site visit by ESPN, which has turned Signing Day into an event of absurd proportions.
Spurrier and Spurrier Jr. simply spoke to media for about 20 minutes, and, fittingly, the most interesting things they said involved how they don’t really value Signing Day that highly, as compared to other moments in their program.
There was news to ask about, of course. USC picked up a recruit on Signing Day – a four-star outside linebacker named Skai Moore who is ranked No. 19 at his position by Rivals and who became USC’s eighth and final four-star recruit in this class of 21. There will, presumably, be lots of pun headlines written about his first name.
Moore was the only recruit who truly picked USC on Signing Day. The Gamecocks were in on No. 17 defensive tackle Keith Bryant, a four-star kid who, like Moore, is from South Florida. But Bryant opted to stay closer to home and attend Florida State, in part because he has a one-year-old daughter.
So there you have it, on a run-of-the-mill Signing Day at USC, even though the Gamecocks picked up enough highly rated prospects – or at least Rivals thought so – that they finished No. 16 in the team rankings, and eighth in the SEC.
But for the first time since 2008, USC did not have a recruit who was on Rivals’ top 100 list, though this class’ overall Rivals ranking was better than all of the previous three classes’ except 2009, when USC was No. 12.
Consider the top 100 guys that USC got from 2009-12 …
2009: CB Stephon Gilmore (84), LB Damario Jeffery (87), WR Alshon Jeffery (99)
2010: RB Marcus Lattimore (10), CB Victor Hampton (60) DT Kelcy Quarles (91)
2011: DE Jadeveon Clowney (1), OT Brandon Shell (66)
2012: RB Mike Davis (63), WR Shaq Roland (66)
USC’s highest-rated recruit for 2013 was outside linebacker Larenz Bryant, who checked in at No. 112 – one of five USC recruits listed in the Rivals top 250.
If you look at the classes of 2009-11, since it’s too early to assess how 2012 turned out, all of those players turned out to be productive, with the exception of Damario Jeffery, a career backup. Gilmore, Alshon Jeffery, Lattimore and Clowney turned into stars. Hampton, Quarles and Shell have become starters and are still blossoming. And this is a big year for Davis and Roland, with playing time available now that Lattimore and Ace Sanders are gone.
With the star-lacking Class of 2013, player development is going to play a big role in determining how successful this group of recruits is. Obviously, for any team, the two or three years after a kid arrives on campus are much more important than the two or three years a coach spent trying to get him there.
You clearly have to get a certain level of talent in order to compete for a national or SEC title, but once you’re in that group of teams with that talent, the best teams separate themselves from the rest with how they can physically and mentally develop their players.
And that’s something else Spurrier talked a lot about today.
Before we get to his comments, let’s clear something up: defensive end Kendal Vickers did not sign a letter of intent with USC today, though he remains committed. His grades aren’t strong enough for him to enroll this fall, so he will either attend prep school or a junior college. That remains to be seen. Regardless of whether he signed a letter of intent today, he can still re-open his recruitment and sign elsewhere with no penalty once he goes to prep school or junior college.
Vickers wasn’t a big-time recruit. Nor was another defensive end from North Carolina, Devan’te Covington. But Rivals’ national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell pegged both players as potential surprises/sleepers in USC’s class.
“If there’s one thing North Carolina is known for, it’s pretty athletic defensive linemen,” Farrell said. “I think those guys got overlooked a little bit. I think one of them is going to be really successful there.”
But if Vickers does end up at USC, he will now have to wait at least a year.
Also, there were some position changes – from how Rivals listed guys compared to how USC listed them – that will be reflected on the complete list of recruits below. But here is a quick overview …
— Mohamed Camara (6-1, 191) was an outside linebacker. USC has him as a safety.
— Pharoh Cooper (5-11, 194) was an “athlete.” USC has him as a cornerback
— Ali Groves (5-10, 184) was an “athlete.” USC has him as a cornerback.
— Jasper Sasser (6-0, 192) was an “athlete.” USC has him as a safety.
— Gerald Turner (6-2, 256) was an inside linebacker. USC has him at defensive end.
And you will also notice the heights and weights on the lists above and below have been adjusted from what they previously were. USC’s list is more accurate because it is based on how the recruits were measured on their official visits.
Here now, the comments of Spurrier and Spurrier Jr. on Signing Day …
** Inside linebacker Jonathan Walton had hinted that he was going to pick USC, and made it official on Signing Day.
“I’m proud of Jonathan Walton,” Spurrier said. “Withstood a strong pull from the in-state school, Auburn, to hang on with us. We think he’s going to come in and really help us at linebacker, possibly even this year.”
It’s a position of need, what with the top two players at both mike and will gone, along with the starting spur.
** USC signed two likely inside linebackers (Walton and David Johnson) and two likely outside guys (Bryant and Moore). Turner could be an inside guy or defensive end.
“Obviously, a lot of them have a chance to play,” Spurrier said.
As for where they fit in, Spurrier Jr. said, “It’s hard to say. We’ve got to wait until they get here. Gerald Turner and David Johnson are two big guys. So their position will be a little different than Larenz Bryant, who weighs 215 right now. Those guys (like Bryant) will start a little bit more outside and move their way in. They kind of fit into their position and you kind of find out how smart they are and who can learn the most and who’s the most ready to play.”
Spurrier Jr. thought it helped USC’s recruiting efforts at linebacker that the Gamecocks had holes to fill.
“I’d like to think it makes it a little easier,” he said. “Your opportunity to come play and play right now is as good as it’s going to get. Certainly, when you have a lot of opportunities and can sign a lot of guys at that position, I think it helps.”
** How much will it help quarterback Connor Mitch that he is enrolled for spring practices? He will get a lot more reps now that Connor Shaw is out for the spring because of foot surgery.
“I saw him out on the field throwing as I looked out my window today and yesterday,” Spurrier said. “He’s out throwing about every day. It seems like he’s grown a little bit. We’ll see how he develops. Connor Shaw was actually here early also (after graduating high school early). It may have helped him a bit.
“We didn’t not redshirt Connor Shaw. There’s a chance Connor Mitch may be redshirted. It just depends on how it goes. But he’s fine with that. Brendan Nosovitch is a player that we redshirted last year that we believe is going to be a very good player also. So you’ve got Dylan (Thompson) and Brendan Nosovitch and Connor Mitch probably pitching it around most of the spring.”
Said Spurrier Jr.: “I think being here (early) helps a lot at any position. You go through a spring. You go through a winter conditioning. Sometimes it’s tough. We’ve had some guys come early that didn’t like it very much and they struggled with it. But if you get a guy that’s mature and tough and really ready to go to work and kind of absorb a lot of information, he gets a lot these next few months. To be able to go through all these meetings and to go through spring football gives him a leg up down the road, whether it’s this year or two, three years down the road. I’d like to hope that that helps him.”
Spurrier interjected to say this about kids graduating early to enroll: “We don’t really advocate that they come early. It’s really an individual decision. If a young man certainly wants to stay and enjoy his senior year of high school, if he plays another sport especially, he should stay back and play. But some young men, they’re ready to go to college. Connor Mitch was that way.”
** USC got five offensive linemen in this class, including four-star guys D.J. Park and Na’Ty Rodgers at tackle. They are the third- and fourth-highest rated overall recruits in the class, and two of the five who made Rivals’ top 250.
“Next year, we’ll probably be a little lighter on the o-line (in recruiting),” Spurrier said.
** Spurrier said running back David Williams of Philadelphia is “going to come in and have a chance to compete right away. David should be able to come in and compete for playing time and see how it goes.”
** The SEC once again had a strong year in recruiting, as evidenced by the fact that USC was No. 16 nationally and No. 8 in the league.
“Watching that TV today, you would have said, ‘Man, I’m glad I’m in the Eastern side instead of the Western side,’” Spurrier said. “That recruiting can be a little deceiving at times. You never know what you’ve got until you really play it out. I remember back in 2008, I think Florida had the No. 1 class (No. 3, according to Rivals), and two years later, that No. 1 class drove Urban Meyer to retirement. Of course, he came back a year later. That No. 1 class just didn’t pan out. Of course, it usually pans out with Alabama every year. Recruiting is extremely important, but after they get there is really what’s most important. The rankings, they’re not everything.”
Mississippi was the big story of Signing Day, as it finished No. 7 nationally.
“They did have an excellent year, it appears,” Spurrier said. “They did an excellent job of their coaches getting out and, as they say, developing relationships. They got out and hustled and convinced players you can win big at Ole Miss. I think it was helpful to have the No. 1 recruit, his brother already on the team. That had to be helpful, too. They had a lot of good things going. Give Hugh Freeze and his staff credit for doing an excellent recruiting job this year.”
** Spurrier pretty well summed up his attitude toward Signing Day when asked how he spends it.
“I had my usual workout at about 10:30 to 11:30 and then came back and checked on the faxes,” he said. “I think all of them were in except maybe one that we weren’t sure of. That was about it. Made a few calls here and there. Called a few of the guys that came with us. That’s about what I do. You’re not going to see me doing a whole bunch of rah-rahing on Signing Day. I don’t think I ever have too much. It’s an important day. I’m not trying to sound like it’s not important. But we’d rather make our noise out here in Williams-Brice (Stadium) on game day. That’s where we’d prefer making our noise, rather than on Signing Day. But we’re fired up about these guys. Don’t get me wrong. But the real noise, I think, is on game days.
“Did (ESPN) call and ask (for an interview) this year? Some years they ask. A couple of them asked to call me. Yeah, I didn’t do any of those today, did I? It wasn’t that big of a deal. We’re sitting in there most of the day watching everything (on TV) and finally they did scroll through there and had us No. 17 or something, and I said, ‘Well, at least they know we’re still around somewhere.’ We didn’t get a lot of PR today, but that’s OK. It may turn out to be one of our best groups. Who knows until we kick it off and start playing?”
As for schools that celebrate Signing Day in a big way, Spurrier said, “If you don’t have a very good season, you need something to get the fans excited for next year. I’ve never tried to over-hype it. I hope I haven’t.”
Or, as Spurrier Jr. put it: “I think some schools like to celebrate this day a lot, too. I don’t think that’s necessarily our ultimate objective, to make this one of the most important days of the year.”
** How does Spurrier think the NCAA’s new recruiting rules, or lack thereof, will affect his program’s approach?
“(Spurrier Jr.) is going to be the staff recruiting coordinator,” he said. “Robbie Liles is actually sort of director of recruiting. Robbie does a lot now of making sure seven guys are on the road (at once), where they are, travel, scholarship numbers, all that kind of stuff. Robbie Liles is sort of our on-campus and off-campus recruiting director.”
Spurrier Jr. talked at length about the changing NCAA rules in this entry.
** Moore’s decision wasn’t really that much of a surprise to Spurrier.
“He talked to me briefly before,” Spurrier said. “I think most of the time, the players that keep it quiet (until their Signing Day press conferences), I think they tell the school they’re going to. Most all of them have told me when they’re coming. I don’t know if I’ve ever got one that didn’t tell me he was coming. We had a good idea about him. We had a real good idea. We think he’s a very good player that could play that sort of outside linebacker spur position.”
** Spurrier said having Jadeveon Clowney helps in recruiting, sort of.
“I think he does help and Marcus (Lattimore) certainly helped, but I sort of believe your freshman guys should be the ones, because they’re going to be here hopefully another three years,” he said. “Jadeveon, he’s going to play one more season, as we know. Incoming freshmen, they may only play one year with him. But again, Jadeveon does a super job of meeting all those guys on their visits. He’s good in recruiting. Very good.”
** USC didn’t sign any receivers this year after landing three highly regarded ones in last year’s class – Kwinton Smith, Shaq Roland and Jody Fuller. Roland was the fourth straight Mr. Football in South Carolina landed by USC – a streak that ended this year when receiver Tramel Terry went to Georgia.
“This spring will be a wonderful opportunity for those young receivers that haven’t done much here yet – Shaq Roland, Kwinton Smith, Shamier Jeffery (Alshon’s younger brother),” Spurrier said. “Shamier has had a change in attitude. He’s been going to everything all the time, hustling. He looks like he wants to play. Damiere Byrd, he needs to catch a whole bunch of passes this spring also, so we can get him ready to be a full-time wide receiver.”
But why no receivers in this class?
“We targeted a couple early but said we weren’t going to take an average player,” Spurrier Jr. said. “If we had a chance to take a great one, we were going to do that. If not, we didn’t feel we needed one. At the time, we weren’t sure if Ace (Sanders) was going to leave or not. That may have changed it a little bit. But we feel pretty good about the group we have. Going into next year, we think we can sign two or three great ones, and we’ll look forward to that.”
** Spurrier Jr. talked a lot about in-state recruiting in the blog entry linked above, but he also said this about USC getting just four-instate guys this year …
“I think every year it’s different. In our state this year, the numbers weren’t as high as they’ve been as they’ve been in the past. I think they’re going to be higher next year. When that happens, you kind of move on to one of your next closest states. Georgia, just the numbers they have. We had a bunch of coaches at I think a high school banquet yesterday and they talked about all the players from the state of Georgia that are playing in the SEC and just the large numbers that there are.”
Here is the final look at USC’s 21-member Class of 2013, and how it all breaks down …
FOUR STAR PLAYERS …
— OLB Larenz Bryant (6-0, 215, Charlotte, N.C.) – No. 4 at position, No. 4 in state, No. 112 national. Recruited by offensive line coach Shawn Elliott.
— CB Pharoh Cooper (5-11, 194, Havelock, N.C.) – No. 9 in state. Was listed as an “athlete” by Rivals. Recruited by former defensive line coach Brad Lawing
— DT Kelsey Griffin (6-2, 292, Buford, Ga.) – No. 7 at position, No. 10 in state, No. 120 national. Recruited by quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus.
— *QB Connor Mitch (6-3, 219, Raleigh, N.C.) – No. 13 at position (pro-style), No. 7 in state, No. 248 national. Recruited by Mangus and special teams/tight ends coach Joe Robinson.
— OLB Skai Moore (6-2, 205, Cooper City, Fla.) – No. 19 at position, No. 43 in state. Recruited by secondary coach Grady Brown.
— *OT D.J. Park (6-4, 335, Dillon High) – No. 19 at position, No. 3 in state, No. 220 national. Recruited by Elliott.
— OT Na’Ty Rodgers (6-5, 296, Waldorf, Md.) – No. 15 at position, No. 6 in state, No. 181 national. Recruited by Mangus.
— RB David Williams (6-1, 200, Philadelphia) – No. 21 at position, No. 8 in state. Recruited by Mangus.
THREE STAR PLAYERS …
— S Mohamed Camara (6-1, 191, Cumming, Ga.) – No. 54 at position (OLB), No. 69 in state. Recruited by Mangus.
— DE Devan’te Covington (6-4, 220, Rockingham, N.C.) – No. 28 in state. Recruited by Elliott.
— CB Ali Groves (5-10, 184, Stone Mountain, Ga.) – No. 74 at position (athlete). Recruited by defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward.
— ILB David Johnson (6-1, 268, Lithonia, Ga.) – No. 29 at position (OLB), No. 30 in state. Recruited by Ward.
— C Bryce King (6-3, 281, Dillon High) – No. 3 at position, No. 6 in state. Recruited by Elliott.
— OT Alan Knott (6-4, 272, Tyrone, Ga.) – No. 53 at position, No. 61 in state. Recruited by Elliott and Robinson.
— **CB Ronnie Martin (5-11, 173, Spartanburg High) – junior college transfer who originally signed with USC for 2011 was No. 46 at position, No. 15 in state out of high school. Recruited by Elliott out of high school, Robinson at junior college.
— S Jasper Sasser (6-0, 192, Jacksonville, Fla.) – No. 59 at position (athlete). Recruited by wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator Steve Spurrier Jr.
— RB Jamari Smith (5-10, 183, Jacksonville, Fla.) – No. 43 at position. Recruited by Spurrier Jr.
— DE Gerald Turner (6-2, 256, Goose Creek High) – No. 23 at position (ILB), No. 8 in state. Recruited by Lawing and Spurrier Jr.
— OT J.P. Vonashek (6-6, 283, Saint Marys, Ga.) – No. 54 at position, No. 62 in state. Recruited by Elliott and running backs coach Everette Sands.
— ILB Jonathan Walton (6-0, 234, Daphne, Ala.) – No. 21 at position, No. 20 in state. Recruited by linebackers coach Kirk Botkin.
— DE Devin Washington (6-3, 225, Orlando, Fla.) – No. 20 at position, No. 58 in state. Recruited by Sands.
COMMITTED BUT DID NOT SIGN …
— DE Kendal Vickers (6-3, 230, Havelock, N.C.) – Not ranked. No primary recruiter listed in Rivals database. Expected to attend prep school or junior college
*Graduated high school early to enroll in January
**Spent two years at junior college before enrolling in January
STATE BREAKDOWN …
Georgia 6, North Carolina 4 (not counting Vickers), South Carolina 4, Florida 4, Maryland 1, Pennsylvania 1, Alabama 1
ASSISTANT COACH BREAKDOWN …
Shawn Elliott – 7 … four full (two four-star), three shared
G.A. Mangus – 5 … four full (three four-star), one shared (a four-star)
Joe Robinson – 3 … three shared (one four-star)
Steve Spurrier Jr. – 3 … two full, one shared
Brad Lawing – 2 … one full (a four-star), one shared
Everette Sands – 2 … one full, one shared
Lorenzo Ward – 2 … two full
Kirk Botkin – 1 … one full
Grady Brown – 1 … one full
TEAM RANKINGS HISTORY …
This also includes USC’s record over the following four years (or fewer). The SEC record counts USC’s appearance in the 2010 conference title game, which it lost to Auburn.
2013 … No. 16 national, No. 8 in SEC
2012 … No. 19 national, No. 8 in SEC … 11-2 in one year, 6-2 SEC
2011 … No. 18 national, No. 7 in SEC … 22-4 in two years, 12-4 SEC
2010 … No. 24 national, No. 10 in SEC … 31-9 in three years, 17-8 SEC
2009 … No. 12 national, No. 6 in SEC … 38-15, 20-13 SEC (school record for class wins)
2008 … No. 22 national, No. 7 in SEC … 34-19, 18-15 SEC
2007 … No. 6 national, No. 4 in SEC … 29-23, 15-18 SEC
2006 … No. 24 national, No. 8 in SEC … 28-23, 13-19 SEC
2005 … No. 23 national, No. 8 in SEC … 28-22, 15-17 SEC
2004 … No. 38 national, No. 9 in SEC … 27-21, 15-17 SEC
2003 … No. 8 national, No. 4 in SEC … 26-22, 14-18 SEC
2002 … No. 11 national, No. 4 in SEC … 23-24, 14-18 SEC