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ESPN: New-look South Carolina offense has chance to get big step ahead

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Welcome to SEC Country’s Chicken & Waffles, your daily dish for all things South Carolina Gamecocks football, basketball and more. Miss a previous edition? Find every edition of SEC Country’s South Carolina Gamecocks Chicken & Waffles right here.

‘Don’t be surprised’

ESPN’s Alex Scarborough likes what he saw from the South Carolina Gamecocks offense under first-year coordinator Bryan McClendon this spring.

“Don’t be surprised if the Gamecocks’ offense takes a big step forward this season,” Scarborough wrote. “Quarterback Jake Bentley having a year under his belt will help, as will the return of receiver Deebo Samuel, but more important there will be a new look to the unit with an emphasis on playing with greater pace.”

The Gamecocks return all seven wide receivers who caught passes last season, but have to replace All-SEC tight end Hayden Hurst, who was picked No. 25 overall by the Baltimore Ravens in the 2018 NFL Draft.

What a week

This past week was eventful for the Gamecocks’ recruiting classes for 2018 and 2019.

Four-star prospect and 2019 wide receiver/tight end Traevon Kenion committed to the Gamecocks on April 29, while Texas A&M graduate transfer cornerback Nick Harvey picked South Carolina on May 2.

“Harvey, of course, will join the Gamecocks secondary for the 2018 season,” SEC Country’s Hale McGranahan writes. “His playing career at South Carolina will be over when members of the Class of 2019 enroll for class next January.”

With Kenion’s pledge, South Carolina’s 2019 class is rated No. 13 in 247Sports’ football recruiting composite team rankings.

‘USC was really good’

Four-star defensive end and 2020 prospect Jacolbe Cowan gets good vibes from the Gamecocks.

“USC was really good,” Cowan said of his visit to Columbia in January. “They always show a lot of love. Never had a problem with USC, as far as a visit. I always feel welcome. They tell me, each time I come down, I’m always welcome.”

247Sports rates the Providence Day School (Charlotte, N.C.) standout as the No. 37 overall prospect for 2020. In addition to South Carolina, Cowan has offers from Alabama, Clemson, Florida, Georgia and more.

Take the over

Brad Crawford of 247Sports picked the Gamecocks as one his best bets for projected win totals for 2018. Online sportsbook BetDSI put South Carolina’s over-under win total for 2018 at seven.

“With even odds, 10 starters back on offense and no clear-cut No. 2 in the East behind Georgia, this is a smart play,” Crawford writes. “The number was 5.5 for South Carolina during the 2017 preseason and Will Muschamp backhanded Vegas with eight wins before taking out Michigan in the Outback Bowl for No. 9. There’s no element of surprise in 2018 for a team with momentum hoping to take advantage of coaching changes at Tennessee and Florida, but seven wins still feels low.”

South Carolina won nine games for the seventh time in program history in 2017. The Gamecocks open the season on Sept. 1 against Coastal Carolina at Williams-Brice Stadium.

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Offer out

The Gamecocks offered 2021 prospect and Parish Episcopal School (Dallas) quarterback Preston Stone on Thursday, according to Ben Breiner of The State.

“In his first high school season, Stone threw for 2,937 yards, completing 59.3 percent of his passes, with 29 touchdowns and seven interceptions,” Breiner writes. “He also ran for 216 yards and 12 scores on a team that didn’t have much running game to speak of.”

The 6-foot-2, 185-pound rising sophomore also lists offers from Georgia, Michigan, Texas, Texas A&M and more.

Making the cut

Five-star small forward and 2019 prospect Wendell Moore announced South Carolina as one of his top-5 schools on Friday, The Big Spur’s John Whittle reports.

 The Concord, N.C., native is rated as the No. 24 overall prospect for 2019, according to the 247Sports composite.

What an honor

Former South Carolina standout and Detroit Tigers catcher Grayson Greiner tied a record when he made his big-league debut on Sunday.

In three seasons at South Carolina (2012-14), Greiner hit .278 with 36 doubles, 18 home runs and 120 RBI.

He was picked by the Tigers in the third round of the 2014 MLB Draft.

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Ranking South Carolina’s draft-eligible players; 4-star WR ‘looking forward’ to Gamecocks’ new-look offense

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Welcome to SEC Country’s Chicken & Waffles, your daily dish for all things South Carolina Gamecocks football, basketball and more. Miss a previous edition? Find every edition of SEC Country’s South Carolina Gamecocks Chicken & Waffles right here.

Catching on

The South Carolina Gamecocks boast two of the top wide receiver prospects eligible for the 2019 NFL Draft, according to Matt Miller of Bleacher Report.

“Deebo Samuel, a redshirt senior, checks in as the No. 4-ranked wide receiver on Miller’s list,” wrote SEC Country’s Hale McGranahan. “Bryan Edwards, who has started every game as a freshman and sophomore, is No. 9. Neither is listed among the top 25 overall prospects.”

In 2016, his most prolific season, Samuel caught 59 passes for 784 yards and 1 touchdown, with 6 rushing scores.

In two seasons, Edwards is already No. 13 all time in catches at South Carolina with 108, to go with 1,383 yards and 9 touchdowns. The Conway, S.C., native needs 10 more grabs to enter the top 10.

Under new management

Four-star WR and 2020 prospect Porter Rooks is “looking forward to seeing” what the Gamecocks offense looks like in 2018.

“Mainly, just their new offensive scheme and how they’re going to do things with their new offensive coordinator,” Rooks said of South Carolina coach Will Muschamp’s pitch.

The 6-foot-1, 180-pound receiver is rated as the No. 26 overall prospect for 2020, per 247Sports.

‘I like the atmosphere’

Four-star defensive end and 2019 prospect Joseph Anderson feels good about South Carolina, both on and off the field.

“I like the atmosphere,” the Murfreesboro, Tenn., native told SportsTalkSC’s Phil Kornblut. “I like their educational standpoint on things. They want you to get a degree and graduate, and that’s what I want to do — get a degree and graduate. They just want you to succeed.”

Anderson is rated as the No. 210 overall prospect for 2019, according to the 247Sports composite. He was a high school teammate of Gamecocks freshman tackle Maxwell Iyama.

Across the stage

Set to graduate on May 12, South Carolina tight end K.C. Crosby is looking forward to balancing a lighter class schedule with football this fall, according to John Del Bianco of The Big Spur.

“It’s going to be great,” the redshirt senior said. “I don’t have too much to worry about, being that I have to take maybe six to nine hours of classes. It’ll just be more fun and a lot better to just focus on football.”

Crosby was lost for the second half of 2017 after suffering a fractured fibula against Arkansas on Oct. 6. In 2016, he caught 23 passes for 217 yards and 4 touchdowns.

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Early arrival

Following his official visit with South Carolina’s men’s basketball team, 4-star center D.J. Burns announced on Sunday that he was reclassifying from the Class of 2019 to the Class of 2018.

“I’m already finished with all of my high school classes that I would need to graduate,” Burns said. “Instead of going to Winthrop or York Tech to do classes and still be in high school doing basically nothing, I’d rather just go ahead and get started and do summer workouts, if I can and just go ahead and get acclimated to where I’m going to be for my college experience.”

Prior to the move, Burns was ranked as the No. 79 overall prospect for 2019, per the 247Sports composite.

In addition to South Carolina, he lists offers from Auburn, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Virginia and more.

Switching sides

Clemson graduate transfer guard Nelly Perry committed to the South Carolina women’s basketball team on Monday, Greg Hadley of The State reports.

“Perry led Clemson in points and assists per game her junior season, but her senior campaign was derailed before it even began because of a shoulder injury,” Hadley wrote. “At the time, the plan was for her to return for a fifth season in 2018-2019, but this offseason, Clemson fired coach Audra Smith.”

Perry averaged 12.7 points, 2.9 assists, 4.2 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game during the 2016-17 season.

Trophy case

South Carolina’s women’s basketball team celebrated 10 years of coach Dawn Staley with a tweet on Monday listing her accomplishments. Heads up, it’s a long list.

In addition to her many accolades in Columbia, Staley was named coach of the USA women’s basketball national team in March 2017.

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How Will Muschamp’s success at South Carolina affects Florida; Gamecocks add another official visitor for June

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Welcome to SEC Country’s Chicken & Waffles, your daily dish for all things South Carolina Gamecocks football, basketball and more. Miss a previous edition? Find every edition of SEC Country’s South Carolina Gamecocks Chicken & Waffles right here.

Division rivals

South Carolina Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp could become a thorn in the side of his former employer, Florida, according to Gridiron Now’s Ryan Green.

“Will Muschamp and South Carolina beat Florida in 2017,” Green wrote. “Will Muschamp and South Carolina are currently outrecruiting Florida for the Class of 2019, and if Will Muschamp and South Carolina were to beat Florida in 2018, it would be another reminder that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.”

In four seasons with the Gators, Muschamp posted a 28-21 record. In his first two years in Columbia, the Georgia graduate has led the Gamecocks to a 15-11 record, including the program’s seventh-ever 9-win season in 2017.

Guest list

Four-star athlete and 2019 prospect J.R. Walker plans to take an official visit to South Carolina the first weekend in JuneSportsTalkSC’s Phil Kornblut reports.

The Gamecocks are “like close together, really tight” with North Carolina State for the 6-foot-1, 205-pound athlete, according to Walker himself.

He’s rated as the No. 298 overall prospect for 2019, per the 247Sports composite.

‘Right here in Anderson’

Muschamp spoke at an Anderson Gamecock Club meeting on Wednesday night.

“Some of the best football in our state is played right here in Anderson [at] T.L. Hanna and coach Jeff Herron has done a fantastic job. I’ve known him forever. And Scott Earley and the job he does over at Westside,” Muschamp said.

T.L. Hanna is home to 5-star defensive end and 2019 prospect Zacch Pickens.

Pickens, one of the Gamecocks’ top recruiting targets, is ranked as the No. 1 prospect in South Carolina and No. 13 prospect overall for 2019, according to the 247Sports composite.

Standing out

ESPN’s Alex Scarborough picked guard Sadarius Hutcherson as South Carolina’s breakout player from spring practice, Ben Breiner of The State reports.

“With Jake Bentley at quarterback and Deebo Samuel and Bryan Edwards at receiver, the Gamecocks’ passing game has a chance to be special,” Scarborough wrote. “But it needs protection, and it might have found a key in that respect in former defensive line recruit and current offensive tackle standout Hutcherson, who was one of two offensive players of the spring.”

The former Huntingdon (Tenn.) High School standout was rated as the No. 63 strongside defensive end by the 247Sports composite when he signed with the Gamecocks out of high school in 2016.

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Summer grind

Class of 2020 offensive lineman Seth Williams is hoping for an offer from South Carolina when he attends camp in Columbia later this summer.

“Just keep working, and I think this summer will be big for me,” Williams said of South Carolina offensive line coach Eric Wolford’s message. “I feel like, if I do really good, though, he’ll offer me at the camp.”

The Statesville, N.C., native already lists offers from Charlotte and Virginia.

‘Breaks my soul’

When meeting with reporters on Wednesday, South Carolina basketball coach Frank Martin was candid about former point guard Rakym Felder.

“It breaks my soul that he’s not going to play for us, but I’m very clear with all my guys, not just the one that made mistakes, on a daily basis, what’s expected of them on a daily basis. … He’s a great kid. He’s got a great heart,” Martin said. “Decision-making, when he’s got free time, is a problem for him and he made some poor decisions that put me in a spot where I couldn’t trust him moving forward.”

Felder signed with New Mexico Junior College on May 7.

Great debate

In the Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James debate, Martin makes the case for the former.

“Can you imagine if Jordan had played the way the NBA is today, with a bunch of 6-foot-6 guys at center, can you imagine that?” Martin said. “Everyone wants to talk about fouling. Jordan had to go finish at the rim over the best group of bigs that have ever played our game, in his era: Patrick Ewing, Hakeem [Olajuwon], Dikembe [Mutombo] — he had to go finish at the rim over all those guys.”

The South Carolina coach continued on to add Wilt Chamberlain’s name to conversation.

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South Carolina’s in-state priorities; Gamecocks coaches ‘don’t look at’ hype

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Welcome to SEC Country’s Chicken & Waffles, your daily dish for all things South Carolina Gamecocks football, basketball and more. Miss a previous edition? Find every edition of SEC Country’s South Carolina Gamecocks Chicken & Waffles right here.

Palmetto priority

The Palmetto State’s No. 1 prospect for 2019, 5-star defensive end Zacch Pickens, is one of the South Carolina Gamecocks’ top remaining targets for the 2019 recruiting cycle.

“The No. 13-ranked prospect in the country, according to the 247Sports composite, is a top priority for [Will] Muschamp, who’s gone the extra mile to recruit the state since arriving in December of 2015,” SEC Country’s Hale McGranahan wrote. “The success rate has been hit or miss, because it’s tough when you’re battling Clemson, Georgia and Alabama.”

The Anderson, S.C., native is rated as the No. 1 strongside defensive end for 2019, per the 247Sports composite.

‘I just don’t look at it’

The message from Muschamp and Gamecocks offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon to the South Carolina football team is simple: ignore the hype.

“We talk to them about it a bunch,” McClendon said of South Carolina’s offseason buzz. “And as much as I love you guys, I just don’t look at it. Obviously, that’s a different time and age, because a lot of guys look at it, but the one thing that you have to make sure that they understand is that’s not reality, in the sense of you’ve got to go out there and earn what you get, at the end of the day, so nobody is going to go out there and play you a certain way because they read something about you.”

South Carolina won nine games for the seventh time in program history in 2017, finishing with a 9-4 record.

First round

South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley could be picked in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft, according to SB Nation’s Dan Kadar.

Kadar projected the Gamecocks’ junior quarterback going No. 29 overall to the Green Bay Packers in his latest mock draft.

“I just think he’s more talented than the other quarterbacks [not included in the first-round mock], just from a raw talent standpoint,” Kadar told SEC Country. “Say, compare him to Jake Browning of Washington, for instance. I think Bentley is just the more talented player, and quarterback is a position where sometimes talent just takes over in how they develop and how they come along. And sometimes you assume there’s going to be a growth spurt, if you will, for any prospect.”

Bentley completed 65.8 percent of his passes for 2,555 yards and 16 touchdowns, as well as 6 rushing scores last season.

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Growing list

Four-star quarterback and South Carolina commit Ryan Hilinski’s offer list has grown lately.

UCLA and Ohio State offered the 2019 prospect last week, with LSU joining the fray in April.

Hilinski is rated as the No. 166 overall prospect for 2019, per the 247Sports composite. He committed to the Gamecocks on April 4.

Most wanted

The Gamecocks have their eyes on several in-state prospects for 2020, including Myrtle Beach (S.C.) High School QB Luke Doty.

“South Carolina is among a handful of schools that have made an early impression, along with North Carolina, Wake Forest, North Carolina State and Virginia Tech,” McGranahan wrote. “Clemson would hold the cards with an offer. Doty [6-foot-2, 190 pounds] possesses the athleticism to play wide receiver or defensive back at the next level, though quarterback is certainly the one he’d prefer.”

Doty is rated as the No. 7 dual-threat quarterback for 2020 by 247Sports, though he’s unranked in the 247Sports composite.

Lasting legacy

As if former South Carolina women’s basketball star A’ja Wilson’s list of accomplishments wasn’t long enough, she added another honor over the weekend.

University president Harris Pastides announced on Saturday that Wilson will have her own statue on South Carolina’s campus.

In her time at South Carolina (2014-18), Wilson led the Gamecocks to a national championship in 2017, swept every national award in collegiate women’s basketball in 2018 and was named SEC Player of the Year three times. The Columbia native was picked No. 1 overall by the Las Vegas Aces in the 2018 WNBA Draft in April.

Home sweet home

South Carolina’s softball team (45-14 overall, 15-9 SEC) will host UNCG, Liberty and Hofstra in the Columbia Regional of the NCAA Tournament starting Friday.

This is the team’s sixth straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament and the first time since 2002 the Gamecocks have hosted a regional as the top-seeded team.

South Carolina lost 3-1 to Florida in the SEC Tournament finals on Saturday.

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Fan Sound Off: South Carolina fans unhappy with Kurt Roper, play-calling

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South Carolina led at the half and by 10 points in the third quarter Saturday in College Station, Texas, but Texas A&M turned up the intensity on both sides of the ball and rallied for a 24-17 victory.

After opening the season with a pair of wins, the Gamecocks have lost two of their last three and are 3-2 overall and 1-2 in the SEC. South Carolina fans are starting to get frustrated with the offense, specifically co-offensive coordinator Kurt Roper.

All comments are taken from South Carolina Gamecocks – SEC Country. You can join the conversation here.

Editor’s note: All comments are taken verbatim and only edited for spelling. 

Tim N Caycie Hunt: We had our chances. We should have kept the pedal to the metal when we had a 10 point lead. If the O-line had been healthy, I think we would have won. Thanks to Spurrier’s last years, we lack quality depth at most positions. We need to give our coaching staff a chance. At least it was a loss to a talented A&M team instead of Troy.

Jamie Hendrix Jr: Agree totally up 10, and we start playing conservative… Why?… Play to win.

Kevin Robinson: Roper sucks. Pack it in for the half with a minute left? Run play on 3rd and 17? We could have won that game, but wasted several possessions.

Brandi Hall Burrows: We can NEVER play two halves! Either the first half we are in it or the second half…. never both! Can’t win like that. 3rd and 17 and you run the ball??? Kurt Roper is an idiot!

Joshua Burdette: I’m keeping my expectations small this season and for the foreseeable future. To sum it up, Carolina, just win one more game than last season. That’s all I’m hoping for these days.

Stan Thompson: Muschamp plays too conservative. We could have been successful but why try and run the ball on each first down when it never works. If I know what they are going to do, believe me it’s not good. I’m very disgusted and have seen this over and over with a few good years in between.

Ken Snow: We were the better team… but out OC is crap. I have had it with this coaching staff!!! We have talent just no coaching!!!! Muschamp… get RID of Roper or you WILL be looking for a job after next year!!!! Signed Disappointed fan!!

Bubba Munn: Would be nice if we could beef up the offensive line. Poor Bentley took a beating tonight. 7-5 & a bowl bid would be nice.

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South Carolina QB commit turning heads; Gamecocks’ graduation rate among nation’s best

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Welcome to SEC Country’s Chicken & Waffles, your daily dish for all things South Carolina Gamecocks football, basketball and more. Miss a previous edition? Find every edition of SEC Country’s South Carolina Gamecocks Chicken & Waffles right here.

Well deserved

With three more major offers in the last few weeks, 4-star quarterback and South Carolina commit Ryan Hilinski sees his growing profile as validation of his hard work.

“I felt like they were going to come. I didn’t expect when they would come, but I felt like they would come eventually,” Hilinski told SEC Country. “But with LSU, Ohio State and UCLA, those are pretty big offers. It just solidifies, I think, that all the work I’ve been putting in is paying out.”

The Orange, Calif., product is rated as the No. 166 overall prospect for 2019, per the 247Sports composite. Hilinski committed to the Gamecocks on April 4.

At the top

South Carolina’s football team is tied for third in the country in Graduation Success Rate, trailing only Dartmouth, Harvard and Northwestern

The team’s 98 percent figure is No. 1 in the SEC.

Muschamp attributes the Gamecocks’ academic success to Maria Hickman, the university’s senior associate athletics director for academics and student development.

Offer out

South Carolina offered 4-star QB and Michigan State commit Dwan Mathis on Sunday.

Mathis has been committed to the Spartans since Sept. 2018.

The 6-foot-5, 195-pound signal-caller is rated as the No. 262 overall prospect for 2019, according to the 247Sports composite.

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Switching sides

South Carolina women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley announced on Monday that Clemson graduate transfer Nelly Perry will enroll at South Carolina.

“We welcome Chanelle ‘Nelly’ Perry to our Gamecock family,” Staley said. “She is an impact player who will bring a wealth of experience with her ability to score in the paint and defend length on the perimeter.”

Perry averaged 11 points and 2.5 assists during her career with the Tigers. She was Clemson’s top scorer in 2016-17, with 12.7 points per game.

What if?

Did Dalzell, S.C., product and former NBA great Ray Allen ever consider attending South Carolina?

When Allen was inducted into the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame on Monday, we got an answer, per Andrew Ramspacher of The State.

“Ray told us the story about how he ended up at UConn,” former South Carolina shortstop Drew Meyer told reporters. “The short end of it was he wasn’t really recruited by the in-state schools.”

Allen went on to star at Connecticut under coach from 1993-96, before being picked No. 5 overall in the 1996 NBA Draft and having an 18-year NBA career.

Moving up

The South Carolina Gamecocks baseball team (30-21, 15-12 SEC) is ranked No. 25 in the latest D1Baseball.com Top 25.

South Carolina jumped in the poll after winning two of three against Missouri over the weekend.

The Gamecocks host USC Upstate in their home finale on Tuesday night before visiting Texas A&M on Thursday for the final series of the regular season.

Toeing the rubber

South Carolina right-hander Cody Morris was named SEC Pitcher of the Week on Monday.

The sophomore hurler tied a career high with 10 strikeouts in seven innings in the Gamecocks’ 1-0 win over Missouri on Sunday.

Morris (6-3, 4.22 ERA) has struck out 69 batters in 64 innings on the mound this season.

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South Carolina’s top targets in Georgia; Gamecocks QB commit checks in with coaches

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Welcome to SEC Country’s Chicken & Waffles, your daily dish for all things South Carolina Gamecocks football, basketball and more. Miss a previous edition? Find every edition of SEC Country’s South Carolina Gamecocks Chicken & Waffles right here.

Gamecocks’ most-wanted

The South Carolina Gamecocks have always ventured into Georgia to pluck some of the talent-rich state’s top prospects. The 2019 recruiting cycle is no different.

Four-star safety Jaylen McCollough of Powder Springs, Ga., is one of the Gamecocks’ top targets in the Peach State.

“So what is he, a safety or a running back? Well, South Carolina’s coaches are telling him he could play both,” SEC Country’s Hale McGranahan writes. “From this perspective, he looks more like a safety in the SEC. It’s shaping up to be a battle between South Carolina, Alabama, Auburn and Tennessee, among others.”

The 6-foot, 190-pound athlete is the No. 100 overall prospect for 2019, according to the 247Sports composite rankings.

‘I’m his guy’

After speaking with Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp on Monday night, 4-star quarterback and South Carolina commit Ryan Hilinski is back on the same page with the Gamecocks.

The 2019 prospect had yet to hear from the coaching staff after they offered fellow 4-star quarterback, Dwan Mathis, during the weekend.

“He just reaffirmed what I was going through and not to worry because that’s just what they are going to do in our class,” Hilinski said of his conversation with Muschamp, via SportsTalkSC’s Phil Kornblut. “I’m his guy, is what he said. He wants to build the program with me. I talked to him and had a great conversation with him.”

The 247Sports composite tabs the Orange (Calif.) Lutheran standout as the No. 169 overall prospect and No. 6 pro-style quarterback for 2019.

Family reunion

Four-star tackle Warren McClendon joins McCollough on the Gamecocks’ wish list of Georgia prospects.

The Brunswick, Ga., native is the cousin of South Carolina offensive coordinator, Bryan McClendon. Many who cover recruiting believe that relationship will “seal the deal for the Gamecocks,” according to McGranahan.

South Carolina is contending with Florida, Georgia and Clemson, among others, for McClendon’s services. He’s rated as the No. 250 overall prospect for 2019, per the 247Sports composite.

Getting defensive

With two defensive ends already committed for 2019 and more than 30 offers out to other players at the position, what’s South Carolina’s plan along the defensive line this recruiting cycle?

“It’s our presumption that South Carolina is in the market for at least two more defensive ends with this class, but the number also could be three,” McGranahan writes. “Some of that might be dictated by who wants to commit, when they want to commit and what else is going on at other positions.”

The Gamecocks’ 2019 class currently includes commits from 3-star defensive end Rodricus Fitten and 3-star junior college defensive end Devontae Davis.

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Be happy

Hilinski’s message to South Carolina fans on Monday night was short and sweet.

The 4-star quarterback has been committed to the Gamecocks since April 4. He’s ESPN’s top-rated pocket passer for 2019.

Bummer

The South Carolina baseball team’s final regular-season home game was canceled on Tuesday night due to impending weather.

The Gamecocks (30-21, 15-12 SEC) head to Texas A&M on Thursday for Game 1 of a three-game set to wrap up the regular season.

South Carolina finished its 2018 home schedule with a 24-10 record.

Silver linings

The home slate might be over, but the cancellation on Tuesday night means South Carolina closed out its regular season at Founders Park in style on Sunday, thanks to sophomore Carlos Cortes.

Cortes leads the team in home runs (14), runs scored (44) and walks (35), and is second in RBI (38).

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4-star DE on bond with South Carolina coaches; Gamecocks basketball receives major boost for 2018-19

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Welcome to SEC Country’s Chicken & Waffles, your daily dish for all things South Carolina Gamecocks football, basketball and more. Miss a previous edition? Find every edition of SEC Country’s South Carolina Gamecocks Chicken & Waffles right here.

‘They offered me first’

Four-star defensive end and 2019 prospect Curtis Fann Jr. has a special connection with the South Carolina Gamecocks.

They offered me first,” Fann said. “Our relationship has always been good. It’s two hours away from my house, not far at all. That’s why I go so much. They offered me last year. It’s coach [Will] Muschamp and [offensive coordinator] coach [Bryan] McClendon.”

The 6-foot-2, 251-pound defensive lineman is rated as the No. 238 overall prospect for 2019, according to the 247Sports composite. Presently, he only has one official visit scheduled, a trip to Louisville on May 31.

Guess who’s back

South Carolina basketball forward Chris Silva withdrew from the NBA draft on Monday, announcing he’ll return to Columbia for his senior season.

“I’m thankful for the experience of going through the draft process,” Silva said in an official release from the university. “I want to thank all of the teams that gave me the opportunity to work out for their organization. I’m excited to announce that I’m returning to South Carolina for my senior season. I can’t wait to get back on the court with my brothers and continue to work on my game.”

The first-team All-SEC selection led the Gamecocks in points (14.3 per game) and rebounds (8.0 per game) last season.

Roster outlook

South Carolina’s football team currently has 82 players on scholarship, according to the latest unofficial count from SEC Country.

“Counted among the players on the team’s official roster are all three graduate transfer commitments: Texas A&M cornerback Nick Harvey, Rice safety J.T. Ibe and Kent State kicker Shane Hynes,” SEC Country’s Hale McGranahan wrote.

The Gamecocks have room for three more players to meet the 85-scholarship limit.

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Growing list

Since South Carolina offered on May 1, junior college cornerback DJ Daniel has received scholarship offers from Florida, Kentucky, Louisville, Ole Miss, Tennessee and more.

“He said what he likes about me, what I would need to work on,” Daniel said of his conversation with South Carolina defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson. “My length, my physicality to the sport. He likes me in press [coverage]. … He offered me on the phone, but he wanted to make it official when I heard from Coach Muschamp.”

The Griffin, Ga., native hopes to make a commitment before his sophomore season at Georgia Military College this fall.

Sin City superstar

Could former South Carolina star and Las Vegas Aces forward A’ja Wilson be the city’s first superstar athlete? The Ringer’s Michael Baumann thinks so.

“Wilson was an absolute superstar in college in every sense of the word and seemed immune to the pressures of the game’s biggest stage and the crushing expectations of a hometown hero,” Baumann wrote. “And in Las Vegas, she has the potential to become an even bigger name.”

After sweeping every national player of the year award in women’s college basketball last season, Wilson was picked No. 1 overall by the Aces in the 2018 WNBA Draft.

Keep climbing

After the South Carolina baseball team (32-22 overall, 17-13 SEC) won its fifth consecutive SEC series on Saturday, the Gamecocks are moving up in the college baseball polls.

South Carolina plays Missouri in the first round of the SEC Baseball Tournament on Tuesday night.

The Gamecocks won two of three against the Tigers in their three-game set earlier this month.

Got you covered

Check out some of the sweet recruiting pieces the Gamecocks mailed out to top recruiting targets earlier this week, courtesy of 4-star DE and 2019 prospect Savion Jackson on Twitter.

Jackson is rated as the No. 45 overall prospect and No. 3 strong-side defensive end for 2019, per the 247Sports composite.

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7 South Carolina players earn All-SEC honors; Gamecocks installed as big favorites in season opener

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Welcome to SEC Country’s Chicken & Waffles, your daily dish for all things South Carolina Gamecocks football, basketball and more. Miss a previous edition? Find every edition of SEC Country’s South Carolina Gamecocks Chicken & Waffles right here.

Conference honors

Seven South Carolina Gamecocks were recognized on Athlon Sports’ All-SEC teams on Tuesday.

“Deebo Samuel garnered first-team honors as both a wide receiver and kick returner,” SEC Country’s Hale McGranahan wrote. “Samuel, a 6-foot, 210-pound senior from Inman S.C., was limited to just three games last season because of injury. However, in those three contests, Samuel scored 6 touchdowns, including a pair of 99-yard kickoff returns. He caught 15 passes for 250 yards. For his career, he has 86 receptions for 1,194 yards.”

Offensive lineman Zack Bailey, linebacker T.J. Brunson and punter Joseph Charlton earned second-team honors. Defensive linemen Javon Kinlaw and D.J. Wonnum were listed on the third team, with cornerback Rashad Fenton making the fourth-team.

Opening favorites

According to vegasinsider.com and betonline.ag, South Carolina is favored by 30.5 points in its Week 1 game against Coastal Carolina at Williams-Brice Stadium on Sept. 1.

In 2013, the Gamecocks beat the Chanticleers 70-10 in the only previous meeting between the two programs.

South Carolina is undefeated in season openers under coach Will Muschamp, beating Vanderbilt 13-10 in Nashville in 2016, then besting North Carolina State 35-28 in Charlotte last season.

3 phases

According to Muschamp, the recruiting process has three key phases.

“It’s the evaluation. It’s the recruitment. And it’s the development when they get on campus,” the third-year South Carolina coach told reporters on Tuesday. “That’s really how you look at it and how you break it down.”

The Gamecocks coaching staff has the first two phases down for 2019; the team’s 2019 class is currently ranked No. 15 in the 247Sports football recruiting composite team rankings with 10 commits thus far.

Looking for more

The South Carolina coaching staff may have originally planned to take just one wide receiver in the 2019 signing class, but that’s no longer the case, according to 3-star WR and 2019 prospect TJ Jones.

“At first, [offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon said] they were going to take only one guy this year, and something came up and he’s already watching my film and stuff,” Jones said. “He said I’m the next guy he wants to coach and he’s going to recruit me hard.”

In addition to South Carolina, the Lake City, Fla., native lists offers from Boston College, Duke, Penn State, Texas A&M and more.

Too early to tell

Before a Gamecock Club meeting in Florence, S.C., on Tuesday, Muschamp shared his thoughts on the potential for legal sports gambling and its impact on college football.

“I think it’s a little bit too early to make any judgments now, to be honest with you, from the standpoint of not knowing how each state will regulate how things will go, so I think it’s a little bit early and premature to comment on it,” Muschamp said. “I haven’t researched it very much, to be honest with you. I haven’t put a lot of time into it.”

The Supreme Court ruled to overturn the federal ban on sports betting on May 14.

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Got your back

Four-star quarterback and South Carolina commit Ryan Hilinski defended Muschamp on Twitter earlier this week, per Austin Nivison of The Big Spur.

“Not YET … and it’s not all about championships. He’s developed young men that can go into the world and make an impact on those around them! That’s way more valuable to me,” the Orange, Calif., native replied to a rival fan’s jabs at South Carolina.

Hilinski’s been committed to South Carolina since April 4. He’s rated as the No. 169 overall prospect for 2019, per the 247Sports composite.

Off-the-field impact

Because of an injury-forced retirement, former South Carolina WR Terry Googer may not be on the field anymore, but that doesn’t mean he’s done contributing to the Gamecocks program.

“He definitely is,” McClendon said Tuesday, via Ben Breiner of The State. “He comes and helps out at practice because he’s kind of a student aide over there at practice. And then he helps out in the recruiting office also. He’s still around.”

Before sustaining a head injury against Texas A&M on Sept. 30, Googer caught 12 passes for 140 yards in his career in Columbia.

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South Carolina target announcing decision on Thursday; former Clemson DT visits Gamecocks

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Welcome to SEC Country’s Chicken & Waffles, your daily dish for all things South Carolina Gamecocks football, basketball and more. Miss a previous edition? Find every edition of SEC Country’s South Carolina Gamecocks Chicken & Waffles right here.

Decision incoming

Three-star linebacker and South Carolina Gamecocks target Jahmar Brown will announce his college decision on Thursday.

South Carolina, Miami and Stanford are reportedly the favorites to land the St. Thomas Aquinas High School (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) standout.

Brown is rated as the No. 44 outside linebacker for 2019, according to the 247Sports composite. He’s a teammate of South Carolina commit and 3-star 2019 center Vincent Murphy.

Spring game memories

Brown visited Columbia earlier this year for the Garnet and Black spring game.

“The main thing I remember is just meeting the coaches, me just falling in love with the city, me building a relationship with coach [Will] Muschamp, [linebackers] coach [Coleman] Hutzler and [defensive coordinator Travaris] Robinson, and the food was good,” he told SEC Country after the visit.

Brown is scheduled to take an official visit to see the Gamecocks during the first weekend in June.

‘Closet full of Carolina stuff’

Former Clemson defensive tackle Josh Belk visited South Carolina on Wednesday.

“My [247Sports] Crystal Ball was 100 percent Carolina. Closet full of Carolina stuff,” Belk told SportsTalkSC’s Phil Kornblut. “I was Carolina all the way up until maybe a week or so before I committed to Clemson.”

The 247Sports composite tabbed Belk as the No. 102 overall prospect for 2018.

Moving up

With a win against Missouri in the first round of the SEC Tournament on Tuesday, the South Carolina baseball team bolstered its NCAA Tournament résumé.

The Gamecocks (33-22 overall, 17-13 SEC) won five straight SEC series before the conference tournament. South Carolina played Arkansas late Wednesday night in the tournament’s double-elimination portion.

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Walk it off

Gamecocks sophomore outfield Carlos Cortes earned SEC Baseball Walk-Off of the Year on Wednesday, thanks to his walk-off home run against Missouri on May 13.

Cortes has 49 hits, 8 doubles, 15 home runs and 43 RBI, with a .249 batting average, this season.

Carolina cover

Despite the hefty line, 247Sports’ Brad Crawford likes South Carolina to cover against Coastal Carolina on Sept. 1.

The Gamecocks and Chanticleers last played in 2013, with South Carolina winning 70-10.

Date set

Four-star small forward and 2019 prospect Juwan Gary will announce his college decision on Nov. 15, his mother’s birthday, according to The State’s Lou Bezjak.

The Columbia, S.C., native listed South Carolina among his top 5 last week.

The 6-foot-6, 200-pound forward is rated as the No. 54 overall prospect and No. 3 recruit in South Carolina for 2019, per the 247Sports composite.

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