The 2008 roster for South Carolina has expanded by seven with the addition of three former prep school players and four December high school graduates.
All seven newcomers enrolled at USC in time for the start of spring semester classes on Monday, and are expected to participate in spring practice, continuing a trend that began last year when four defensive line prospects enrolled early.
The early enrollees this year include defensive backs Antonio Allen and Akeem Auguste, athletes Jay Spearman and Charles Whitlock, linebacker Shaq Wilson, quarterback Reid McCollum and running back Eric Baker.
Allen, Auguste and Baker signed with USC last February before academic concerns forced them to attend Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia last fall.
All three players are rated four-star prospects by Rivals.com.
Allen and Auguste were among six defensive backs to sign with USC last February. However, one signee (Arkee Smith) was denied admission into USC, a controversial decision that produced an emotional outburst from head coach Steve Spurrier, while the other (Sam Pope) left the Gamecocks shortly after the start of fall camp due to concerns over playing time.
Spring practice is scheduled to begin March 18 or 19. The annual Garnet and Black game is scheduled for Sat., April 19 at Williams-Brice Stadium.
Before that day comes, however, the seven additions will participate in winter conditioning, a vigorous early-morning workout program held at the Indoor Facility.
The addition of Allen and Auguste gives USC 10 defensive backs heading into spring practice. Whitlock and Spearman could play in the secondary as well.
Allen, a high school teammate of current USC wide receiver Dion Lecorn (27 receptions in 2007) at Trinity Catholic High School in Ocala, Fla., was rated the 12th best prep school prospect in the country by Rivals.
He earned first-team all-state honors in 2006 after totaling 126 tackles and four interceptions.
"I feel like my year at Fork Union was my redshirt year, so I really want to see the field as a freshman (at South Carolina)," Allen told Gamecock Central recently. "I'd love to win a starting spot if I can, but I'll be happy with just playing some if that's what's best."
Auguste didn't lag far behind Allen in the Rivals.com prep school ratings with a No. 23 overall ranking. He had 114 tackles in his final two seasons at Chaminade-Madonna High School in Hollywood, Fla., including 54 tackles and three interceptions as a senior. He returned two of those interceptions for touchdowns. He was
ranked as the No. 28 prospect in the Sunshine State.
Baker, who rushed for 800 yards and 10 touchdowns for Fork Union despite battling a nagging ankle injury, could emerge as candidate for early time with the depth chart unsettled behind Mike Davis (518 rushing yards) and Brian Maddox (14 yards on six carries).
"I believe (attending Form Union) was a good thing for me," Baker told Gamecock Central recently. "It wasn't easy up there, but I learned to stay focused on schoolwork and how to manage my time better. It's a relief to have it all behind me, though."
Baker, the highest ranked prep school prospect (No. 9) by Rivals.com, led the Sunshine State in rushing in 2006 at Edward H. White High School in Jacksonville. With his credentials, he could challenge Bobby Wallace and Taylor Rank for the third spot on the depth chart.
"I'm hoping I can get some playing time right away and not redshirt," Baker said. "I'll just come in and work hard and see how it works out from there, but I'd really like to get some carries and show what I can do."
Although Allen, Auguste and Baker grew up in Florida, the new crop of players also has a decidedly South Carolina flavor.
McCollum, Spearman and Whitlock, all of whom played in the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas, are three of six Palmetto State players verbally committed to USC. The others are defensive linemen Kenny Davis (Newberry), quarterback Aramis Hillary (Johnston) and offensive lineman T.J. Johnson (Aynor).
Whitlock is Rivals.com's highest rated prospect from the Palmetto State to sign with South Carolina, and capable of playing multiple positions, including wide receiver, defensive back and kick returner. He led Chester High to one of its best season in years with an appearance in the Class AAA State Championship game.
"I think I'll have a pretty good jump on the other freshmen coming in (the summer)," Whitlock told Gamecock Central following the Shrine Bowl. "(Coach Spurrier) has told me I have a good chance to come in and start if I really work my tail off. They've talked to me about cornerback, receiver and using me on special teams as a return man. It doesn't matter too much to me as long as I'm on the field. I'll help out wherever they need me."
McCollum joins a Gamecock quarterback corps that includes sophomore Chris Smelley, junior Tommy Beecher and redshirt freshman Stephen Garcia.
Another quarterback, Aramis Hillary of Strom Thurmond High School, will join USC in the fall.
The 6-foot-4 McCollum, the No. 12 overall prospect by Rivals.com in South Carolina, led Summerville High to the Class 4-A, Div. I championship game.
Spearman is another multi-dimensional player that could play either wide receiver or defensive back at USC. He collected 1,300 all-purpose yards and 10 touchdowns while leading Greenwood to an 11-2 record.
The final player to enroll early at USC is linebacker Shaq Wilson, who graduated early from First Coast High School in Jacksonville, Fla.
He was named the area's Defensive Player of the Year by The Florida Times-Union after logging 116 tackles, three sacks and three interceptions and four forced fumbles to lead First Coast to an 11-3 record and the district title.
Although he starred at First Coast, Wilson has already played a football game in the Palmetto State. He helped lead the Buccaneers to a 26-23 victory over Berkeley High School in the 2007 season opener at Moncks Corner.
Wilson is a former high school teammate of redshirt freshman defensive back Jamire Williams.
2008 JANUARY ENROLLEES
Player POS HT WT HOMETOWN (HIGH SCHOOL/LAST SCHOOL)
Antonio Allen S 6-2 190 Ocala, Fla. (Trinity Catholic/Fork Union Military)
Akeem Auguste CB 5-11 180 Hollywood. Fla. (Chaminade-Madonna/Fork Union Military)
Eric Baker RB 5-11 190 Jacksonville, Fla. (Edward H. White/Fork Union Military)
Reid McCollum QB 6-4 195 Summerville, S.C. (Summerville)
Jay Spearman ATH 6-0 187 Greenwood, S.C. (Greenwood)
C.C. Whitlock ATH 5-11 172 Chester, S.C. (Chester)
Shaq Wilson LB 6-0 220 Jacksonville, Fla. (First Coast)
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