South Carolina Football: The 10 Greatest Recruiting Classes of All Time

Adam GarrettAnalyst IJanuary 18, 2012

South Carolina Football: The 10 Greatest Recruiting Classes of All Time

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    Recruiting has become such an important part of college football these days.

    South Carolina has been able to recruit at a much higher level the last few years and, in turn, have seen some of the greatest years in school history. The recent classes have become the highest-ranked classes in Gamecock history.

    It's no wonder recruiting has become a 365-days-a-year job function of today's college football coach. If you don't step up, then one of your rivals is busy going after the recruits that can turn your program around.

    Let's take a look at some of the greatest South Carolina recruiting classes of all time based on the recruiting rankings. The majority of these classes come in the past decade when recruiting became a more important role in today's college football world. These are in no particular order.

    Take a look...

No. 1: 2005 Class

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    Steve Spurrier's first class that he signed at South Carolina finished at No. 23 in the recruiting rankings on Rivals.com.

    This class had a lot of potential, but a few players stood out from the 2005 class. They are:

    • K Ryan Succop
    • WR Kenny McKinley
    • OL Jarriel King
    • TE Jared Cook

    Succop would end up becoming one of the strongest kickers in the SEC and was a consistent threat from 55 yards and in as a field goal kicker. He would later become the last pick in the NFL draft and recently signed a multi-year million dollar contract.

    Kenny McKinley came in as an athlete, but the intention was for him to become a wide receiver. McKinley excelled in the switch and would break several USC receiving records that were held for a few seasons before Alshon Jeffery ended McKinley's reign as one of USC's greatest receivers.

    Offensive lineman Jarriel King went through several years of trying to qualify for enrollment at USC, and when he finally made it into school, he became an immediate starter. King was a solid offensive lineman during his career at South Carolina and has been in the NFL with the Seattle Seahawks this past season.

    Jared Cook was a freak of nature at wide receiver who outgrew the position and become a deep threat at tight end for the Gamecocks. He fit the mold of a receiver like Calvin Johnson with his rare height, speed and athleticism. Cook later became a draft pick of the Tennessee Titans, where he plays today.

    There were a few highly-rated players in this class, like Mike West, Carlos Thomas, OJ Murdock, Brandon Isaac and Jonathan Hannah. West, Thomas and Isaac become role players for the Gamecocks, while Hannah and Murdock flamed out at USC and finished their careers elsewhere.

    Steve Spurrier had a short time to take over and finish this recruiting class, but was able to do a nice job given the circumstances.

No. 2: 2007 Class

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    The 2007 class finished in the top 10 and has to be considered the highest-rated Gamecock recruiting class of all time.

    This class featured 14 4-star recruits, which was almost unheard of for South Carolina at the time.

    A few standouts were:

    • DE Travian Robertson
    • QB Stephen Garcia
    • TE Weslye Saunders
    • DE Cliff Matthews
    • LB Melvin Ingram
    • OL Clifton Geathers
    • WR Chris Culliver
    • DB Akeem Auguste
    • DB Antonio Allen

    Another class that is loaded with defensive players.

    South Carolina got a lot on contributions from Robertson, Matthews, Ingram, Auguste and Allen. Geathers switched to defensive end and became a star on defense. Ingram struggled his first few seasons in Columbia, but really turned it on in 2010 and 2011.

    Culliver was a long-time starter at cornerback after switching over from wide receiver after his first season. Matthews was a guy who was a perfect team player that gave his all whenever he was on the football field. Allen and Auguste would end up enrolling a year later after attending prep school.

    Quarterback Stephen Garcia is a guy whose name will be remembered in Columbia for a long time. He led the Gamecocks to some big wins, including a victory over No. 1-ranked Alabama and an SEC East division title. He also went through some off-the-field issues that ended with his dismissal midseason during his senior year in 2011.

    Weslye Saunders was another player with a load of talent that underperformed during his time at USC. He was a playmaker at tight end, but was suspended and dismissed his final season in Columbia after being subject to some NCAA investigations and violation of team rules. Saunders would eventually find himself a home in the NFL with the Pittsburgh Steelers during the 2011 season.

    A few other familiar names in this class are FB Patrick DiMarco, OL Kyle Nunn, RB Brian Maddox, WR's Dion LeCorn and Jason Barnes and DT Ladi Ajiboye.

    A top-ranked class with a lot of potential. Several of these players become the face of the greatest two-year run in South Carolina history. I'd think Steve Spurrier would be happy with this class.

No. 3: 2003 Class

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    The 2003 class was one of Coach Lou Holtz's final classes at South Carolina. Coach Holtz was able to find some gems in this class, and several of these players are playing on Sunday,

    This class contained players like:

    • DB Fred Bennett
    • RB Cory Boyd
    • QB Blake Mitchell
    • QB Syvelle Newton
    • DB Ko Simpson
    • RB Demetris Summers

    The 2003 class finished ranked No. 9 on the Rivals recruiting database. It's easy to see why.

    Running back Demetris Summers was a five-star recruit and considered the best running back in the nation. Summers showed a lot of promise early in his career, but off-the-field issues derailed his career at USC.

    Ko Simpson and Fred Bennett are two products of the South Carolina "DB University," as they are two of the many South Carolina defensive backs to make it to the NFL in recent years. Ko Simpson was outstanding as a freshman for South Carolina and left after his sophomore season for the NFL. Bennett was a shut-down corner for South Carolina that was later drafted by the Houston Texans.

    Cory Boyd became a household name during his career at South Carolina as a tough, hard-nosed runner. He really excelled under Coach Steve Spurrier's tutelage. Syvelle Newton was Mr. Versatile for South Carolina during his career, as he starred at wide receiver, quarterback and even at running back.

    Blake Mitchell had a blessing in disguise when Spurrier took over South Carolina and became the starting quarterback. Mitchell had an up-and-down career, but was able to make his way up the USC passing charts in a few short years. He had a ton of potential, but struggled at times late in his career.

    This was a highly-ranked class for the Gamecocks, but ended up with some very talented players who excelled at USC and moved on to the next level. A solid group of recruits from Lou Holtz.

No. 4: 2010 Class

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    South Carolina found their next superstar in the 2010 class by a guy named Marcus Lattimore.

    Everything else that came out of this class was a bonus.

    This class ended up at No. 24 in the recruiting rankings, but did have a few other players that will be stars of the Gamecocks in the next few seasons.

    They are:

    • RB Marcus Lattimore
    • QB Connor Shaw
    • WR Ace Sanders
    • DB Victor Hampton
    • OL AJ Cann

    Everyone knows about Marcus Lattimore. He was stellar for the Gamecocks in 2010 and started off great for USC in 2011 before suffering a season-ending injury. He plans to return in 2012 better than ever.

    Steve Spurrier's latest quarterback may end up being his best. Connor Shaw saw brief action as a true freshman, but become the Gamecocks starter midway through the 2011 season and really shined with more playing time for the Gamecocks. His strong play at the end of the season has Steve Spurrier thinking big in 2012.

    Ace Sanders has been solid his two seasons for the Gamecocks. He has a total of four receiving touchdowns so far, but should be expected to step up in 2012 to help replace Alshon Jeffery. He also is a threat as a punt returner.

    AJ Cann became a starter for the Gamecocks as a redshirt freshman in 2011 and looks like he'll be a starter for the Gamecocks for years to come. Offensive line has long been a weak point of this USC offense, but performances from Cann and others can help this offense prosper soon enough.

    DB Victor Hampton became a solid backup for South Carolina in 2011 as a red-shirt freshman, but should start at cornerback in 2012 as he replaces the departed Stephon Gilmore.

    A few other names to mention are WR Nick Jones, DT Kelcy Quarles and DB Sharrod Golightly. Quarles has star written all over him, while Jones and Golightly will provide some nice depth in backup roles in the future.

    This class will always be remembered as the one that brought Marcus Lattimore to South Carolina, and it's hard to downgrade this class because he has been such an important piece of South Carolina football.

No. 5: 2009 Class

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    2009 was another great year for the Gamecocks and Steve Spurrier. This could be the class that features a few players that "turned" the Gamecocks football program around for good.

    This class finished at No. 12 in the Rivals.com recruiting rankings and featured 14 4-star recruits, like the 2007 class.

    Here's a look at a few of the standout players:

    • ATH Stephon Gilmore
    • LB DeVonte Holloman
    • WR Alshon Jeffery
    • DB D.J. Swearinger
    • TE Justice Cunningham
    • LB Quin Smith

    The two names that jump out to you here at Stephon Gilmore and Alshon Jeffery. These two players could have played anywhere in the country and ended up at South Carolina. Gilmore became a starter at cornerback before his freshman season started and was an All-SEC performer his three seasons in Columbia.

    Alshon Jeffery broke onto the scene five games into his freshman year and never looked back. Jeffery would break several USC receiving records with his impressive catches and will soon be doing the same in the NFL.

    Defensive players DeVonte Holloman and DJ Swearinger have become increasingly important for South Carolina over their first three seasons, and both players expect to play a huge role in 2012 for the Gamecocks.

    South Carolina also found some gems in role players like Justice Cunningham and Quin Smith. Both players have performed at high levels, and South Carolina is glad to have them on their side.

    A few names that were highly ranked for South Carolina are WR Lamar Scruggs, RB Jarvis Giles, ATH Matt Coffee, DE Leon Mackey and RB Ben Axon. Scruggs hasn't been able to crack the wide receiver rotation, while Coffee hasn't performed like a four-star recruit. Giles struggled in the SEC and ended up transferring, while Mackey and Axon never made it to Columbia.

    Gilmore, Holloman, Jeffery and Swearinger make this a great class for South Carolina considering their contributions to the Gamecock football program.

    Steve Spurrier did a great job of convincing Jeffery and Gilmore to come to Columbia. These two players paved the way for the future of South Carolina.

No. 6: 2006 Class

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    South Carolina's second recruiting class under Steve Spurrier ended up in the Top 25 rankings again, but this class had a lot of players for the Gamecocks that would make an impact during their time at USC.

    A few standout players were:

    • OL Garrett Anderson
    • LB Jasper Brinkley
    • DE Terrance Campbell
    • DB Emmanuel Cook
    • DB Captain Munnerlyn
    • DE Eric Norwood
    • DB Darian Stewart
    • QB Chris Smelley

    As you can see, there was a lot of talent for South Carolina in this class.

    Future Gamecock defenses were shaped by Brinkley, Cook, Munnerlyn, Norwood and Stewart. All of these players have made their way to the NFL after several great years for the Gamecocks. Brinkley became an All-SEC linebacker, as did Eric Norwood.

    Norwood would become South Carolina's leader in sacks during his career. Munnerlyn was a tough corner given his short stature, and Stewart and Cook were hard-hitting safeties for South Carolina.

    Terrance Campbell made the switch to offensive line for the Gamecocks and really excelled in this position. He just recently finished his sixth year of eligibility and is expected to have a shot at the NFL.

    Garrett Anderson was a several year starter for South Carolina on the offensive line and has been one of the Gamecocks better offensive linemen in recent years.

    Chris Smelley was a highly-recruited quarterback who had the look of a Steve Spurrier quarterback. There were high hopes for Smelley, but they were short lived, as his struggles became more rampant as his career went on. He ended up giving up football to play baseball at Alabama.

    A few other players in this class who ended up contributing for the Gamecocks were OL Hutch Eckerson and Heath Batchelor, LB Casper Brinkley, WR Moe Brown and LB Rodney Paulk.

    This was a talent heavy class and featured a lot of contributors over the last few years for South Carolina.

No. 7: 2012 Class

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    This class has yet to set foot on the Proving Grounds in Columbia, S.C., but it's one of the more deeper and higher ranked classes for the Gamecocks.

    This class is headlined by the following players:

    • OL Brock Stadnik
    • RB Mike Davis
    • DB Jordan Diggs
    • DB Chaz Elder
    • WR Shaq Roland
    • WR Jody Fuller
    • OL Joe Harris

    There is a nice balance for Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks. This class is probably headlined by South Carolina's Mr. Football, Shaq Roland. Roland is a two-sport star who expects to step right in at wide receiver where Alshon Jeffery left off. He's joined by WR Jody Fuller from North Carolina, and they are expected to form a top duo for years to come.

    Offensive lineman Brock Stadnik and Joe Harries are both extremely talented and guys that could make an immediate impact for the Gamecocks, especially Stadnik. Stadnik enrolled early for South Carolina and could use the spring practice to work his way up the depth chart.

    New commitment Mike Davis is a complete running back that expects to fill the void when Marcus Lattimore heads to the NFL. He can do it all and looks like a perfect fit for South Carolina.

    A few defensive backs in Jordan Diggs and Chaz Elder are expected to continue the "DBU" tradition at South Carolina and become top-notch secondary players.

    Some other names to watch are LB Kaiwan Lewis, DB Rico McWilliams, WR Kwinton Smith and DE Darius English.

    This class is ranked at No. 11 right now and could finish in the Top 10 if they close on a few final prospects.

    The 2012 class should give hope to South Carolina fans for the future.

No. 8: 2008 Class

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    The 2008 recruiting class was a smaller one for the Gamecocks, with only 22 commitments, but it still finished at No. 22 in the recruiting rankings.

    This class only had a handful of standout players, and they are:

    • LB Shaq Wilson
    • DB CC Whitlock
    • DE Devin Taylor
    • RB Kenny Miles
    • OL T.J. Johnson
    • WR Tori Childers(Gurley)

    Kenny Miles and Tori Gurley ended up being solid role players on offense for the Gamecocks. Miles is contemplating coming back for his senior season, but he has played several big games for the Gamecocks and was USC's leading rusher in 2009. Tori Gurley become the No. 2 wide receiver at South Carolina in his two seasons before leaving early for the NFL. He now plays for the Green Bay Packers.

    Devin Taylor, CC Whitlock and Shaq Wilson all have starred on defense for South Carolina at one time or another. Taylor has become an All-SEC performer at defensive end the past two seasons and will return for his senior year in 2012. Whitlock started several games for South Carolina and was a confident cornerback who wasn't afraid of a challenge. LB

    Shaq Wilson excelled as a freshman, but suffered an injury that held him out his sophomore season. Wilson has returned to the lineup to become a starter once again for the Gamecocks.

    This class had players like QB's Reid McCollum and Aramis Hillary, TE Mike Triglia and K Ryan Doerr that ended up transferring from South Carolina.

    A decent class for Steve Spurrier that ended up ranked high for the Gamecocks but didn't produce much output.

No. 9: 2002 Class

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    Lou Holtz found some highly-ranked players in the class of 2002. Several of these guys were recruited heavily, but ended up signing with the Gamecocks.

    Here's a list a few of the top-ranked players in this class:

    • LB Ricardo Hurley
    • DT Randy Jackson
    • LB Darel Slay
    • TE Moe Thompson
    • WR Troy Williamson
    • RB Kenny Irons
    • OL Jabari Levey

    This was a class of could have been for the Gamecocks. 2002 was a great recruiting year, for the Gamecocks finished at No. 11 in the rankings, but ended up with a lot of disappointments.

    South Carolina landed 5-star players like Hurley, Jackson and Slay, but all were big disappointments for the Gamecocks. Hurley would be the only player to make any sort of impact out of the three. Slay was serviceable for South Carolina, but nowhere near the player worthy of a five-star rating. Randy Jackson was in the same position as Slay. Back-up player, but not a star, as it was suggested.

    Moe Thompson was a player with a ton of potential and, at times, played well for the Gamecocks. He ended up leaving the program after his junior year when he ran into legal issues.

    Kenny Irons became a star running back but not at South Carolina. Irons grew tired of sitting on the bench and transferred to Auburn, where he excelled for the Tigers.

    OL Jabari Levey was a solid starter for the Gamecocks on the offensive line.

    A few other names in this class were RB Daccus Turman, DE Andy Boyd (who later became a TE) and DB Taqiy Muhammad.

    Loads of potential in this class, but some never made it to Columbia, while others didn't live up to the hype.

No. 10: 2011 Class

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    South Carolina's 2011 class picked up a late addition when Jadeveon Clowney signed with the Gamecocks on Valentine's Day of 2011.

    This bumped the Gamecocks up to the No. 18 spot in the Rivals recruiting rankings. This class was heavy in prospects with 32, but there were several players who expect to play major roles for the Gamecocks.

    A few of those players are:

    • DE Jadeveon Clowney
    • WR Damiere Byrd
    • DT Phillip Dukes
    • WR Shamier Jeffery
    • DB Sheldon Royster
    • OL Brandon Shell
    • TE Rory Anderson
    • RB Shon Carson
    • QB Tanner McEvoy
    • RB Brandon Wilds

    This class had a lot of balance, but its prized piece was Jadeveon Clowney. He's considered one of those rare players that doesn't come around every year, and he performed well in 2011. He has room to grow and lot to learn, but expect a huge leap in 2012 for Clowney.

    Byrd, Carson, Shell, Anderson, Jeffery and McEvoy are part of the future on offense for the Gamecocks. Shell is the future starter at tackle for the Gamecocks, while Carson is the change-of-pace running back. He missed the 2011 season with injury.

    Jeffery, Anderson and Byrd are expected to become part of the group to replace Alshon Jeffery in 2012. Byrd is a speedster and Jeffery looks like a star at wide receiver. Anderson was a nice surprise at tight end for 2012.

    Brandon Wilds ended up being a huge surprise for South Carolina, replacing Marcus Lattimore as the starter and rushing for three 100-yard games towards the end of the season. He has a future on this football team.

    Dukes and Royster should step right in during the 2012 season and become fixtures for the South Carolina defense for years to come. Both players could end up starting for South Carolina as red-shirt freshmen and are expected to play big roles next season.

    A few other names to watch are LB Cedrick Cooper, WR KJ Brent, DB Ahmad Christian, DE Gerald Dixon, DT Deon Green and TE's Drew Owens and Jerrell Adams. Adams would end up becoming part of the 2012 class due to grades. 

    This class has a lot of star players for the Gamecocks and gives a glimpse into the future of South Carolina football. There's a lot of bright talent here, and things look good for continued success for South Carolina if this group can continue to grow and become fixtures on the field in 2012.