Now that National Signing Day 2012 has gone, I thought I would start taking a look at signing days gone by.
It's hard to believe it now, but South Carolina's 7-5 record in the 2005 season seemed to most like a roaring success in the wake of three consecutive seasons in which Lou Holtz failed to lead the Gamecocks to a bowl game. Despite a disappointing loss to Missouri in the Independence Bowl, Steve Spurrier led his squad to historic victories against Tennessee and Florida, and it appeared as though the Head Ball Coach might be on his way to turning things around in Columbia overnight.
The players who signed their Letters of Intent on February 1, 2006 comprised Steve Spurrier's first full recruiting class. The class was ranked 24th overall by Rivals, but ended up producing more disappointments than pleasant surprises.
In the following paragraphs, I'm going to compare the Rivals star ratings of each player that signed with South Carolina in 2006 to the actual value that they added to the football program while they were here. My star rankings will be somewhat rough, but I will be loosely applying the following criteria:
- Five Stars: All-American, with potential to be taken in the first or second round of the NFL Draft
- Four Stars: All-SEC, with potential to be taken in mid- to late rounds of the NFL Draft
- Three Stars: Started most or all games at least one season, marginal NFL possibilities
- Two Stars: Role player, probably never on an NFL roster
- One Star: Played sparingly or not at all
I think you'll find that these criteria roughly coincide with Rivals' approach to assigning star values to players when they're heading into college.
The Offensive Line
Spurrier had to quickly assemble a class in 2005 after being hired in late November of the previous year and did well to obtain 22 commitments in addition to the six that committed to Lou Holtz. But there was a serious problem the with '05 class that proved to be a thorn in the side of the Gamecocks for several years to come: they signed zero offensive linemen.
This made offensive line the primary position of need for the '06 class. And even though they managed to sign seven big uglies, three sevenths of their OL haul (Pierre Andrews, Seaver Brown, and Kevin Young) played very sparingly and elected to leave the team after graduating during their redshirt junior seasons. Ryan Broadhead battled injuries throughout his career and never saw the field. Another, 4 Star JUCO Transfer Clarence Bailey, never made it to campus. That left Hutch Eckerson and Garrett Anderson as the only offensive linemen from the 2006 class who made meaningful contributions to the team. And even though both Eckerson and Anderson became solid starters, neither quite lived up to their four star billing. The only offensive lineman who lived up to his star-based expectations was Terrence Campbell (three stars), who was actually recruited as a defensive end and struggled through injuries and position changes throughout his career before putting together a solid 2011 campaign at right guard.
The Pleasant Surprises
The players from the 2006 class who exceeded their star projection by one or more stars all came from the defensive side of the ball, which may have something to do with why South Carolina football was has been so consistently defined by stellar defense in recent seasons. Jasper Brinkley (3 stars), Emmanuel Cook (3 stars), Eric Norwood (3 stars), and Captain Munnerlyn (2 stars) all exceeded expectations, with Munnerlyn being the only player in the class to beat his projection by two stars. Each of these players had 4 star careers.
Other Major Disappointments
Perhaps the most frustrating player in the 2006 class was Kenrick Ellis, whose inability to contribute to the team had nothing to do with talent and everything to do with his inability to stop violating team rules. Ellis was dismissed from the team in 2008, transferred to Hampton where he was an All-MEAC player, and was later selected in the third round of the 2011 draft.
On the other hand, Chris Smelley's rapid rise to heralded Gamecock signal caller and subsequent fall may be matched only by the four star QB who signed with South Carolina the following year. After leading the Gamecocks to a 6-1 record and #6 national ranking in 2007, he lost five straight games and was eventually overtaken by Stephen Garcia as starting quarterback in 2008. Smelley would then transfer to Alabama to play baseball and go on to have a younger brother who is a lot better at football than he is.
Pretty Much What We Thought They'd Be
Casper Brinkley came in as a three star JUCO transfer at DE and had a solid two-year stint in the shadow of his All-SEC, linebacking brother. Darian Stewart (three stars) also had a good career, but - in my view - fell just short of moving up a star level. Rodney Paulk (three stars) battled injury but ultimately put together a solid career. Moe Brown came in as a three star WR and went on to have an average, unremarkable career as the second or third best option on any given passing play. LB Vandaral Shackleford falls into that category as well. (I had a hard time deciding if their careers rated as a twos or a threes.)