Commentary

Politics spills into Gamecocks' recruiting

South Carolina coaches focus on making sure drama doesn't affect recruiting

Originally Published: April 1, 2010
By Jc Shurburtt | ESPN Recruiting

The state of South Carolina's racially charged political issues spilled over onto the gridiron in a very public manner recently. From all indications, however, they have not had an impact on the University of South Carolina's recruiting efforts.

Members of the South Carolina Black Caucus announced last Wednesday that members of the community were contacting Gamecocks recruits, asking them to rethink their decisions to attend South Carolina because the school's only black board of trustees member, attorney Leah B. Moody, is facing an uphill battle in her re-election campaign in the South Carolina General Assembly. It appears that most of the support has swung behind Alton Hyatt, a white attorney. Should Moody lose, South Carolina could become the only Southeastern Conference school without a single minority on its board of trustees.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Lattimore
Juan BlasMarcus Lattimore, the jewel of South Carolina's 2010 class, was one of the recruits contacted and asked to rethink his decision to play for the Gamecocks.
After the news hit, many black lawmakers clarified their positions. Rep. Leon Howard said Friday that it was not the official position of the South Carolina Black Caucus to contact recruits or discourage them from attending South Carolina.

It has been thought that South Carolina, which is located in the Palmetto State's capital of Columbia, has battled a negative perception of the state on the recruiting trail for some time, due in part to the controversy of the Confederate battle fflag flying in front of the State House. The flag flew atop the State House from 1962-2000 before a compromise placed it in its current position, near a monument honoring fallen Confederate soldiers.

The NCAA has endorsed an NAACP-led tourism boycott of the state by refusing to allow the state to host NCAA tournament sites, like the NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments. It is the position of the university and its football program, including head coach Steve Spurrier, that the flag should be removed from the State House grounds.

"I may be na´ve, but I don't think it has hurt us," said recruiting coordinator Shane Beamer, who is in his fourth season at South Carolina. "It's never been brought up with anybody that I've recruited and it's never been brought up in any of our staff meetings about a player another coach on our staff is recruiting. Now, I am not going to say that some schools may not use that against us and we don't know about it, but I've never seen that it has an impact."

Beamer, son of Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer, is no stranger to issue such as these. He worked at Mississippi State from 2004-06 and said that, at times, the Bulldogs battled a negative perception of the Magnolia State, but that it came up only a few times with prospects from out-of-state. Mississippi's state flag still incorporates the Confederate battle flag in it and the state faces similar boycotts from the NCAA and NAACP.

"It was more a case with prospects who were maybe from the state of Kentucky or Tennessee or somewhere else in the South and their parents had dealt with specific things in the state of Mississippi many years ago," Beamer said. "It came up less than five times, though, and we had to express to them that they needed to come to Starkville and see what it was all about. Most of the time they did and they saw that the stereotypes were not valid."

As for the Gamecocks, the political issues have yet to have an impact if you consider who they've signed. South Carolina's 2010 recruiting class was ranked No. 23 in the nation, no doubt aided by the inclusion of the state's top prospect, running back Marcus Lattimore (Duncan, S.C./James F. Byrnes). Lattimore reportedly was one of the prospects contacted. The Gamecocks also have signed top-25 classes in 2009 (No. 12) and 2007 (No. 4) under Spurrier.

Lattimore's stepfather, Vernon Smith, said the issue of politics or race never came up when schools were recruiting against South Carolina. Lattimore picked the Gamecocks over Auburn the day before national signing day.

"[Race] never came up in any of his recruitment with any of the schools," Smith said. "It was never even thought about, to tell you the truth. With the other schools, we never heard about anything with the political situations. There were always other routes they took. It was mostly about football, the wins and losses and the coaches.

"Everything was related to football and everybody had a certain angle they took. Sometimes we learned what certain school's angles were before they even used them and it was almost like they were in court and had to prove their case. If you can't prove it, it's a lie."

The Gamecocks currently have no commits for the 2011 class, but are in the mix for several highly regarded prospects, including defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (Rock Hill, S.C./South Pointe), who has already been named to the 2011 Under Armour All-American Game.

ESPNU 150 watch list athlete Damiere Byrd (Sicklerville, N.J./Timber Creek) has South Carolina high on his list and said he had not even heard about the story despite the fact it was national news and that the Gamecocks were still high on his list.

"I don't really even pay that much attention to the news and politics," he said.

The next great New Yorker

In the tradition of Maurice Evans and Dominique Easley, Ishaq Williams (Brooklyn, N.Y./Abraham Lincoln) is the next great defensive line prospect from the Big Apple.

The 6-foot-6, 230-pounder holds scholarship offers from a number of programs, including Maryland, Rutgers, Syracuse, Pitt, NC State, Penn State, Miami, West Virginia, Boston College, Texas Tech, Florida, Notre Dame, Louisville, Iowa, Michigan, USC, South Carolina, Connecticut, Alabama and Oklahoma.

"I am greatly honored that people such as recruiters, coaches and journalists see me as such. I am also proud that the hard work of me and my supporters is being rewarded," Williams said. "I look to be the best I can be at what I do, and work as hard as I can to get as far as I can with the football thing."

Williams does not have any unofficial visits set up presently, but said he does intend to take several.

"Nothing is set in stone," he said. "Everybody is all even right now and I am considering all schools. I am looking for good academics, good program, excellent coaches, good environment and a place where I can feel comfortable in and feel at home. I am pretty sure I will ride it all the way. I am not going to make my decision early."

McReynolds in North Carolina

Class of 2011 Under Armour All-American defensive tackle Kevin McReynolds (Washington, D.C./St. John's College) made his first round of unofficial visits this past weekend, heading to the state of North Carolina to check out East Carolina, North Carolina State and UNC.

"I think that [North Carolina head coach] Butch Davis is a super cool coach," McReynolds said. "I really got a good feeling when I was there. I liked the facilities and the campus and everything else about it. It was just a real impressive trip."

McReynolds added that East Carolina rolled out the red carpet for him and that he also saw some positive things at North Carolina State.

McReynolds plans a long trip this summer with stops at Texas A&M, USC, Auburn and others.

Texas Tidbits

• Texas is expecting around 250 prospects (2010 signees, 2011 commits, select 2011 prospects and a slew of 2012 kids) to be at the Longhorns' spring game on Sunday.

• ESPNU 150 Watch List defensive end Cedric Reed (Cleveland, Texas) is going to visit Texas for the Texas Relays and the spring game this weekend. He also visited Texas last weekend to watch a practice and visited Texas A&M on Sunday. He told me this will be his final visit of the spring and a decision could come soon. Texas is the leader but A&M feels like it is making up ground.

• ESPNU 150 Watch List defensive tackle Marquis Anderson (Cibolo, Texas/Steele) and running back Malcolm Brown (Cibolo, Texas/Steele) do not have any recruiting visits planned in the near future according their high school coach Mike Jinks. Brown is currently our top-rated prospect in Texas. Texas looks to be a slight leader right now with Oklahoma a close second. Anderson is one of the top defensive tackle prospects in the Southwest. Oklahoma leads for him and TCU also has a shot to land him. Texas looks to be third for Anderson.

• Athlete Josh Turner (Oklahoma City, Okla./Millwood) is scheduled to visit Texas this weekend, as is 2012 RB Jonathan Gray (Aledo, Texas/Aledo). Gray's father, James, was an All-America running back at Texas Tech. Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech are schools in the mix early for Gray.

Short stuff

Running back Bill Belton (Taco, N.J./Winslow Township) says that Oregon is showing him heavy attention and he feels the Ducks may be close to offering. ... Speaking of the Ducks, athlete Hakeem Flowers (Greenville, S.C./Wade Hampton) will travel to Oregon this coming weekend for an unofficial visit. ... Receiver Josh Morrow (Ocean Springs, Miss./Ocean Springs) reportedly had a good unofficial visit to Miami this past weekend and the Hurricanes are in the mix for the 6-4, 200-pounder. ... Maryland is the latest offer for defensive end Deion Barnes (Philadelphia, Pa./Northeast).

JC Shurburtt covers recruiting for ESPN.com. He can be reached at jcsespn@aol.com.