**Story by Phil Kornblut/Photo by Allen Sharpe**
OL LaMarius Benson (6-3, 320) of Covington, GA has played just one full season on the offensive line but he apparently showed enough promise to receive an offer from South Carolina last month at their junior day as a guard, and Sunday he took the Gamecocks up on their interest by issuing a commitment to head coach Will Muschamp.
"He said the commitment made him the happiest he's been in a long time," Benson said. "I feel like it's a perfect school for me. It's close to home and I like the coaches. It's perfect for me."
Benson had been a defensive lineman until moving primarily to offense last season with spot duty on defense. And it's the athletic skills he displayed as a defensive tackle that impressed SC offensive line coach Eric Wolford enough to move on him.
"He said I can move for being so big," Benson said. "I see big things happening, that's what I see, because of the people they've got coming in."
Benson also has offers from Georgia Tech, Maryland, Georgia State, Marshall and Troy. Despite the commitment, Benson said he does not plan to shut down his recruiting and will still visit other schools. Benson's commitment gives SC three newcomers for the 2018 class.
WR Jatavious Harris of Milledgeville, GA now has SC at the top of his list ahead of Miami, Tennessee and Georgia.
“It had a lot to do with Miami and the commitments that they have. But we’ve (SC WR coach Bryan McClendon) been having a lot of good conversations about football and that I can play early there," Harris said. "He said I would fit in perfect and he’s ready to coach me. I like the program. That’s why I moved them up to my number one out of all my schools.”
Harris did not make it to SC’s recent junior day due to a track meet and he plans to get to SC when he doesn’t have a track conflict. He has been to Georgia and Georgia State. Harris also has offers from Florida, Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Iowa State, Purdue, Vanderbilt, Oklahoma State, Louisville, NC State, Oregon State, East Carolina and Mississippi State.
The most talked about recruit among SC fans for the 2018 class no doubt is DE Xavier Thomas of Florence. Thomas, who will play his senior season at IMG Academy, is on record as saying he will pick either South Carolina or Clemson and will announce on Dec. 20. Thomas, for the most part, is being hush-hush about his thinking. He just completed visits to both in-state schools as part of an IMG tour of five schools so he could do a refresher course on both programs.
Thomas has not been available for comment but a source who talked with him recently shared some of what Thomas has shared with him:
“I’m hearing USC mostly from Xavier. He wants to change the program around," he said. "He loves the coaches and players and it’s a family atmosphere there. He grew up a Gamecock fan. He loves everything about Clemson. They just won a national championship. I think the determining factor of where he’ll end up playing is how well USC will play this season.”
Thomas will visit SC again for the spring game April 1.
Alabama had great success last season with an elusive quarterback in Jalen Hurts and last week the Crimson Tide offered a quarterback of a similar mold in Dakereon Joyner of Fort Dorchester.
“I guess so, definitely a dual-threat kinda guy," Joyner said. "I’m extremely blessed and thankful. Not many people get this opportunity.”
Joyner had planned to visit Oregon last weekend but that visit will be rescheduled. He’s also looking at visits to Georgia and Auburn in the near future plus a return visit to SC.
Spring Valley LB Channing Tindall landed offers from Notre Dame and LSU last week. His other Power 5 offers are SC, NC State, Auburn, Wake Forest, Georgia and Florida while Clemson, Penn State, Purdue, Georgia Tech and Cal are other major programs showing interest. Tindall has had SC at the top of his list for the last month or so and the Gamecocks had him back for a visit in late February for their most recent junior day.
“I didn’t get to see the entire practice, but I did see enough to get a feel for Coach Hutzler’s coaching style," he said. "I got a chance to sit down with (LB) TJ Brunson, which was nice. He gave me a lot of insight on the program. I was also able to sit down with Coach Hutzler and Coach Muschamp. They are really treating me like a priority.”
He has been to SC and Wake Forest this calendar year and he plans to get to more schools after his track season, including Notre Dame.
Heavily recruited DE KJ Henry of Clemmons, NC made visits to Clemson and Alabama the end of last week. Henry also has been to SC and has developed a tight feeling with Will Muschamp.
“I think the Gamecocks are on the come-up,” Henry said. “Coach Muschamp is always talking to me and trying to get me down there. They are in dire need of some defensive pressure, so I think playing early is something they are letting me know and I definitely like to hear that. I think they have some guys with great potential and the way they coach them, a lot of explosiveness off the ball as well.”
Henry also plans to get to SC for a visit, possibly during spring practice. The Tigers and Gamecocks also appear to be in good shape to get official visits from him.
LB Rosendo Louis of Deerfield Beach, FL has visited SC in the past and plans another visit later this month to watch a spring practice.
“I really like them, they’re one of the teams I’m looking at right now," he said. "I think I’d fit in (on their defense). I hear from them often, every other day. I think they are a team on the come-up.”
Louis said Miami, Ole Miss and Arkansas are other offers he’s considering right now. He’s also visited Miami. He also has offers from LSU, Wisconsin, Florida, Georgia and NC State. He plans a decision this summer.
DB Israel Mukuamu, formerly of Berkeley and now of Bossier City, LA, has a SC offer and continues to hear from the Gamecocks.
“They are interested and wanted me to come to their junior day, but it’s kind of far. I’m going to visit in the summer again," he said. "I still like them a lot. I just want to go to a place that’s going to be serious about and let me play early and get a good education.”
Mukuamu can play any of the positions in the secondary but said SC liked him as a safety. Mukuamu has been to Mississippi State and Oklahoma State for junior days. He’s also getting interest from Wake Forest, Purdue, Indiana, Tulane, Iowa State and Louisiana-Lafayette. He visited Tulane over the weekend and picked up an offer and has trips coming up to Lafayette, Indiana and Purdue. He does not have a leader and is looking at making a commitment in late summer just before his season or early in his season. His offers are SC, Wake Forest, UTSA, Coastal Carolina and Charlotte.
PK BT Potter of South Pointe is the state’s top kicker in the 2018 class and if things go well for him this summer, there’s a strong likelihood he will be at Clemson in another year. Potter said if he decides to go to Clemson, he would walk-on as a freshman and would go on scholarship in the following January. He’s also hearing some from SC, Wake Forest, Oklahoma, Indiana, Cal and Wisconsin. His lone offer is from Mercer.
Duke is the latest offer for Chapin OL and state heavyweight wrestling champion Hank Manos. He also has offers from SC, NC State, Wake Forest, East Carolina, Coastal Carolina and Georgia State and is getting interest from Clemson. Manos took in a USC spring practice before the Gamecocks went on spring break and he also took a visit to NC State recently. Manos said he hears a lot from SC practically every day, with Muschamp and Wolford making the contacts.
“Coach Wolford is a great coach, an awesome coach," Manos said. "I saw him at practice two weeks ago. He’s definitely an intense guy and fits the program style up there. I got to watch him work with some of the players and that was very exciting for me. Definitely saw that he knows what he’s doing and is very active on the field, which I like.”
Manos said he will return to SC to watch spring practice. He does not have favorites at this point.
DL Darnell Jefferies of Covington, GA will be back at SC Saturday for another visit. He is in regular contact with defensive line coach Lance Thompson.
“He’s just telling me to stay focused and keep my head on straight and continue to do great things in school and on the football field,” Jefferies said.
He visited Clemson Wednesday and Georgia Thursday. Jefferies has not yet formulated a short list. LSU, Maryland and Ole Miss are his most recent offers. Some of his others are Alabama, Georgia Tech, Tennessee, Auburn, Wake Forest, Miami, Notre Dame and Kentucky. He does not have a timetable on a decision.
LB Dax Hollifield of Shelby, NC also will visit USC again Friday for a spring practice.
QB Cordel Littlejohn (6-4, 185) of Roswell, GA attended SC’s junior day last month. The Gamecocks have not offered but quarterbacks coach Kurt Roper is interested enough that he plans to evaluate Littlejohn moving forward.
“They were telling me that they are interested but want to see me throw in the spring. I think I would fit in great with their offense, it’s pretty much what I ran last year.”
Last season Littlejohn passed for 3,655 yards and 50 touchdowns. He also is looking at Louisville, Mississippi State, Tennessee and Miami of Ohio. He also has visited Tennessee, Mississippi State and Georgia State and has visits coming up to Louisville and NC State.
DB Jaycee Horn of Alpharetta, GA has SC in his top 15 along with Georgia, Ohio State, Mississippi State, Missouri, West Virginia, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Auburn, Tennessee, LSU, Florida, Alabama, Ole Miss and Louisville.
SC target OL Casey Holman of Snellville, GA committed to Duke and DL target Kelijiah Brown of Saluda committed to Wake Forest.
SC recently became the first to offer 2019 OL Michael Tarquin (6-4, 272) of Ocala, FL at last month’s junior day and that has put the Gamecocks at the top of his early list. Tarquin also has visited Clemson, Michigan State, Florida and South Florida. He has visits coming up to Miami, Auburn and Florida State.
SC offered 2019 WR Kendrell Scurry of Thompson’s Station, TN who is currently committed to Tennessee. Scurry issued a tweet saying that while he’s still committed to the Vols, he feels the need to consider more options and thus has not shut down his recruiting
2019 QB Kennique Bonner-Steward (6-4, 195) of Fayetteville, NC visited SC Tuesday.
“I loved the atmosphere and how things were being run. I met with Coach Bentley and we talked summer camps and the days he wanted me to come back to see me on the field for a physical evaluation," he said. "At the moment I have no offers but I am expecting to turn heads this summer and I will be back to SC in June for one of the camps.”
Steward said other schools are showing interest but the SC visit was his first.