South Carolina's Sound Recruiting Strategy
South Carolina’s 2013 recruiting class may hide behind the headlines of the Gamecocks’ SEC contemporaries, but what it lacked in star power it recovered in depth.
While teams like Alabama can stockpile five-star recruits at a single position, South Carolina was forced to recruit in a manner that filled vacancies caused by early draft entries and graduation. But the Gamecocks went about this process wisely by finding players with starter potential in the long-term and the ability to make positive impacts in the short-term.
Kelsey Griffin was probably the most highly-touted recruit that Steve Spurrier and his staff were able to land. The massive defensive tackle is listed at 6-foot-1 and 285 pounds. He'll find himself in the defensive line rotation right away. South Carolina’s front four was already a strength, but Griffin adds excellent depth for this season and his relative quickness could be an asset off the bench. In the future, he’ll be a starter and possibly a star.
The linebacker position was a concern in going into the offseason. South Carolina lost three key players at that position, and in an SEC full of top running backs, there is a steep learning curve for inexperienced players.
Bryant played at inside linebacker, but a move to the outside might be in the cards due to his size. At 6-foot-1, 207 pounds, he lacks the bulk of a typical SEC inside linebacker. Speed, agility and the ability to diagnose plays are his staples, and those should earn him time on the field. The "Spur" linebacker position seems like the likely landing spot for Bryant, but with so many holes in the depth chart it’s not unimaginable to see him spend some time at his familiar "Mike" linebacker location.
Skai Moore is another small linebacker, but this four-star recruit is already familiar with playing on the outside. Moore needs to get bigger, but he's a good hitter who leverages his speed to make tackles. He may begin with a special teams role or on defense for spot substitutions, but Moore has starter potential. As with Bryant, the lack of depth at linebacker presents an opportunity for Moore to get on the field.
The Gamecocks have a strong backfield. Quarterback Connor Shaw returns and running back Mike Davis, who filled in admirable for the frequently injured and now departed Marcus Lattimore, will seek to improve on his impressive freshman year. Even still, South Carolina added at both those positions in ways that should improve the team going forward.
Running back David Williams out of Philadelphia is an all-around back with good speed and strength. Next year his impact may be limited given that Davis will see the bulk of the carries and Brandon Wilds offers an interesting power option. Nevertheless, Williams’ talent and upside are enough to mandate more than a few touches each game. South Carolina should be able to reliably pick up yards on the ground.
The Gamecocks also added another quarterback to the mix. Connor Mitch is a four-star recruit who will redshirt the 2013 season, but he has a chance to inherit the offense after Dylan Thompson graduates in 2015. He’s a pocket passer who’ll surely benefit from a year of off-the-field tutelage from Steve Spurrier. Adding Mitch to the roster ensures that there is a reliable option under center in the years to come.
The offensive line is another area where the Gamecocks prepared for the future. South Carolina brought in an entire reserve offensive line. Two guards, two tackles and a center will fill in for a unit that only lost one starter. Linemen take time to develop, so it is difficult to predict exactly how these recruits will turn out. Still, the idea of adding at every offensive line position speaks to South Carolina’s overall strategy.
With the unpredictability of early draft entries, it’s imperative that teams cast a wide net. A successful season, like the one the Gamecocks just enjoyed, is often followed by a mass exodus of players with pro potential. In order to improve on previous success, teams like South Carolina must be mindful of both the long-term and short-term objectives.
What South Carolina has done with the 2013 recruit class demonstrates an even-keel approach to recruiting. Quality players bought into the program that fill immediate needs and fit within future plans. There’s clearly a strategy in place, and while that methodology might not catapult South Carolina to the top of the recruiting class, it should ensure a strong team in 2013 and stability for years to come.