15 January 2007

Gamecock Recruiting Update

Keith Allsep
GamecockCentral.com Columnist

With less than four weeks until signing day, it appears the South Carolina Gamecocks are on their way to perhaps the best recruiting class in school history. One of the most impressive groups in this class is the speedy and talented group of defensive backs that have made verbal commitments to South Carolina. In today's report we take a look at the secondary class, which is headlined by a pair of four-star prospects in safety Mark Barnes and cornerback Akeem Auguste.

Four-star cornerback Akeem Auguste committed
to USC on Friday.

Heading into this season, one goal for this recruiting class was to upgrade the speed and talent at every position on defense. Carolina is on track to do just that, including a talent upgrade in the secondary that will allow the Gamecocks to continue to employ its present strategy of playing mostly man-to-man coverage.

The Gamecocks have commitments from three high school cornerbacks and a talented junior college player that could play either cornerback or free safety.

Auguste is the latest commitment for the Gamecocks. The 5-foot-11, 175-pound cover corner chose the Gamecocks over finalists West Virginia and Wake Forest. The four-star corner, who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds, had over 20 scholarship offers, including schools such as Auburn, Nebraska, Pittsburgh, and Louisville. Auguste was also heavily recruited by FSU and Florida.

The nation's No. 12 cornerback prospect excels in man coverage, has excellent ball skills, and is a physical tackler. The Hollywood Madonna-Chaminade product could also be used as a kick returner.

Jamire Williams committed to the Gamecocks back in the fall and chose USC over firm offers from Florida, Ohio State, Georgia Tech and Tennessee, among others. The 6-foot, 180-pound cornerback prospect from First Coast High School in Jacksonville, Fla., is considered one of the top secondary prospects in the Sunshine State.

In watching the three-star prospect's film, he has great recovery speed and is excellent in run support. Williams has the size and physical ability to play free safety, but the Gamecocks like his coverage skills and he will begin his career at cornerback.

Addison Williams was one of the first commitments for the class of 2007, committing to the Gamecocks last May. The 5-foot-9, 170-pound prospect makes up for his lack of height with his strong, physical play and also excels as a kick returner. The Atlanta Westlake product reminds me both in size and in style of play of former University of Georgia standout Tim Jennings.

It was believed that Williams would join the Gamecocks this month, but due to a numbers crunch on mid-year enrollees, it appears the three-star cornerback will now wait until summer to enroll at USC.

Junior college transfer and Beaufort native Sam Pope will also enroll at USC this summer although he has already graduated from SW Mississippi Junior College. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound prospect has blazing speed and was considered the top defensive back prospect in the Palmetto state in 2004.

The Gamecocks recruited Pope to play the same position as graduating senior Fred Bennett. Pope will play cornerback and could slide over to the safety position in nickel situations.

According to a source close to the Gamecock program, Carolina's defensive staff considers Pope to be perhaps the most talented prospect currently committed to the them, regardless of position. The junior college star is expected to make an immediate impact when he arrives this summer, and could make his way into the starting lineup.

The Gamecocks have also helped themselves at the safety position as well with a pair of commitments. It's likely that a third prospect will join the class on Wednesday.

Four-star athlete Mark Barnes could make
an immediate impact at safety.

Mark Barnes committed to the Gamecocks last month immediately following a stellar performance in the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas. The 6-foot-3, 195-pound athlete could play on either side of the ball on the collegiate level, but is more likely to make an immediate impact at safety for the Gamecocks. Rated as the No. 7 athlete by Rivals.com, the Richland Northeast star is an excellent tackler and has a nose for the football. He also shows great range from the safety position.

The four-star prospect has some academic hurdles to clear, but with a strong second semester should be able to qualify for freshman eligibility. Should Barnes qualify, expect him to make an immediate contribution in 2007.

Arkee Smith is a 6-foot-1, 190-pound safety prospect that impressed USC secondary coach Ron Cooper this past summer at USC's one-day prospect camp and left Columbia with an offer from the Gamecocks. Smith, a raw, but fast and physical prospect, is the high school teammate of Jamire Williams.

One name to keep an eye on this week is Ocala (Fla.) Trinity Catholic free safety Antonio Allen. Both he and his teammate, four-star receiver Dion Lecorn, are scheduled to make an announcement on Wednesday afternoon, with South Carolina expected to be the choice.

With the addition of these prospects, USC will add both the speed and skill necessary to continue to be one of the top secondary units in the SEC.

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