The Gamecocks don’t have to imagine. Indications are they are assembling an even stouter group of signees this year.
“Last year, we put together a great class, but it was so rushed,” recruiting coordinator Jody Wright said. “We have a better idea of what we need now.”
Head coach Bill Clark was hired in mid-December and his staff was formally announced right after the first of the year. Wright was the last to come aboard after wrapping up at Alabama, where he helped the Tide sign three straight No. 1 recruiting classes, as judged by Rivals.com.
That left only a few weeks to save the commitments already secured by the former staff and find more players to add to them.
By banking on the relationships they had forged with high school coaches across the state and their connections to SEC and ACC coaches who can’t sign everybody, the new staff gathered more star-rated prospects in one class than the Gamecocks ever had before. This year that number figures to increase.
Even with the uncertainty of Clark’s involvement in the UAB head coaching search, the Gamecocks are planning to entertain 18 high-level prospects in their next big visitation weekend Friday. More than a third of them already had committed to JSU, but were taking their official visits.
A dozen of them have offers from FBS schools the Gamecocks feel they have a legitimate chance to beat. That’s a reflection of their philosophy of recruiting for beyond an Ohio Valley Conference title. They already beat Kentucky, Ole Miss and Mississippi State for a commitment from Ashville linebacker E.J. Moss, a Rivals.com three-star prospect.
Six other commitments are Rivals two-stars – Eagles Landing (Ga.) quarterback Dalton Etheridge, Mobile Christian center Jordan Cagle, Wetumpka lineman Christian Williams, Walker linebacker Austin Mansell, Mill Creek (Ga.) defensive back Michael Leonard and Vestavia lineman Ryan Childers.
Five more on this next round of visits are two-stars, including one player with a soft commitment to Wake Forest.
“I think people will be shocked at who all has recruited some of these guys,” Clark said. “We’re getting a volume of more quality guys. We got some guys last year that shocked a ton of folks. This is the next step. It’s been a year-round process.”
The expected signing class of 18 to 20 players – not including the three Southeastern Conference transfers that arrived in January – came from nearly 2,000 players the JSU coaches saw this year. They drew about 600 for their Night of Champions camp and had between 200 and 300 prospects at their games where most teams in the conference may have a quarter to half that many at a time.
“We just had longer to identify kids and understand what we’re trying to do offensively and defensively, so we’ve got a better idea of what we’ve recruited and who fits our schemes,” Wright said. “We know our personnel needs better. We played a whole season and practiced with them. We know what we need, the pieces that were missing.
“We feel we need to win a national championship now. We played a conference (season), so we know what type of player we have to have to win our conference and in the playoffs.”
The greatest needs in this recruiting class are offensive line, inside linebackers and defensive backs, and that’s reflected in the 12 commitments they already have secured. Among that group are four offensive linemen, three linebackers and two defensive backs. In the 18 prospects on campus this weekend there are four from each area.
It certainly hasn’t hurt their effort that the team went 11-4 and all the way to the FCS quarterfinals in Clark’s first season.
“It’s probably (made it) easier,” Wright said. “You catch up with people, and they’ve kept up with you and know you’ve broken some school records and made the playoffs.
“We were in Indianapolis last week (for the AFCA coaches convention) and we couldn’t walk three feet without people congratulating Coach (Clark). We had junior college coaches pushing their kids on us. It helps that we’re getting a lot of national attention and right now we’re trying to cash in on that.”
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.