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Who are South Carolina’s priority football recruits in the 2018 cycle?

With the 2017 class in the fold, Will Muschamp and the staff fix their eyes on next year.

Student Sports

Although the Gamecocks have just welcomed 24 new players to the program, the work has begun to identify their priority recruits for next year’s class. Make no mistake: even though National Signing Day 2018 is a long way off (February 7, 2018, to be exact), Will Muschamp and his staff are already making plans to begin their big push toward getting seniors-to-be in the boat.

As the year progresses, these are the five names you most likely will be hearing the most about. It’s by no means an exhaustive list, but adding most (or all) of these names to the class will be huge building blocks toward getting the program back to relevance and restoring them as a competitor in the SEC.

Xavier Thomas, DE, IMG Academy (Fla.)

We’ve mentioned his name numerous times and will mention it numerous more times until he commits, but Muschamp’s #1 recruiting focus over the next few months is making sure the nation’s top recruit isn’t wearing orange, regalia and white Fort Hill in 2018. The full court press by both Muschamp and Clemson coach Dabo Swinney has begun and will continue until Thomas decides between South Carolina and the Tigers sometime between the end of his junior season and NSD next spring. A lot can change before then - and a win by Muschamp in arguably the most important recruiting battle of his career, coupled with a positive result on the football field in 2017, could open the door to a new era of gridiron success in Columbia.

Rick Sandidge, DT, Concord (N.C.)

I mentioned in the past about the possibility of a Xavier Thomas - Rick Sandidge - Josh Belk - MJ Webb/Javon Kinlaw defensive line in 2018 at South Carolina. While Belk committed to Clemson, Sandidge is still a high priority for the Gamecocks staff. Sandidge’s production dipped from his sophomore to his junior year (three TFLs and four sacks in 2016 versus 14.0 TFLs in 2015), but the talent he has is still evident. The Gamecocks will need to beat out North Carolina to get Sandidge in the fold, and if they are able to pick up a commit from both him and Thomas, it could be the start of a dynamic defensive front.

Dakereon Joyner, QB, North Charleston (S.C.) Fort Dorchester

Muschamp should feel extremely comfortable about his standing with a player that could end up being the quarterback of the future at South Carolina. While Joyner is classified as an athlete, he wanted to play quarterback, his primary position, in college. And while he was considering Clemson as his school of choice in 2018, their decision to recruit him as a safety and subsequent pickup of Trevor Lawerence led him to remove the Tigers from his list. Louisville, North Carolina State and the Gamecocks are Joyner’s top three right now, but consider him a strong Carolina lean all the way to his decision date of June 18 (in honor of his late father).

Dax Hollifield, LB, Shelby (N.C.)

With Skai Moore and Bryson Allen-Williams seeing their Gamecocks careers come to an end at the close of the 2017 season, linebacker stands to be a position of some need. While the staff signed Davonne Bowen, Sherrod Greene, Brad Johnson, Damani Staley and Eldridge Thompson on Wednesday to help fill the holes and to recoup the losses of Larenz Bryant, Jonathan Walton and T.J. Holloman, they’re still projected to be actively recruiting some LB talent next year. The staff hosted Hollifield during their junior day this past weekend and made it known that he is a big part of their future plans at the position. As for Hollifield, seeing the field right away will play into where he ends up.

“I just want the chance to play...I told (Muschamp) that I’m not going to go somewhere because I like the coaching staff better, because my top three, Virginia Tech, South Carolina and UNC — I love all the coaching staffs. That’s why they’re in my top three.”

Hollifield projects to see that opportunity in Columbia if he chooses South Carolina, so expect to hear more about him in the coming months.

Master Teague III, RB, Murfreesboro (Tenn.) Blackman

Unsurprisingly, the Gamecocks will be battling Tennessee to get the nation’s #16 running back in their camp. Running back will still be in good shape in 2018 as A.J. Turner and Rico Dowdle will be juniors and Ty’Son Williams and Caleb Kinlaw will be seniors, but it also will mean that the team will need to start rebuilding depth in that department. Teague could be an option to follow the same path Dowdle and Turner took as immediate first-year contributors. Add that to the dual-threat tendencies of Dakereon Joyner and the Gamecocks’ running game projects to be very stout if they’re able to land those two.