CHARLOTTE — When head coach Will Muschamp arrived at South Carolina, the Gamecocks’ football program had just one player from the city of Charlotte — and he was born in Charleston.
Linebacker Larenz Bryant, whose injury-plagued career ended in graduation last year, had been USC’s lone representative from the Queen City proper. The Gamecocks will add another when offensive tackle signee Eric Douglas arrives on campus, the beginning of what Muschamp hopes is a more reliable recruiting haul out of the largest city in the Carolinas.
USC will have a chance to increase its Charlotte profile on Sept. 2, when the Gamecocks open the 2017 campaign against North Carolina State at Bank of America Stadium. It will be the second time in three years USC has opened in the Carolina Panthers’ facility against an opponent from the Old North State, with more coming in 2019 and 2023.
“We have a lot of guys we recruit in this area,” Muschamp said Monday at a Charlotte Sports Foundation meeting at Quail Hollow Country Club, site of this year’s PGA Championship. “I think it’s great exposure for our program, exposure for future players to be able to see the Gamecocks play. But there are some outstanding players and coaches in this area.”
Although USC has long enjoyed success recruiting in Rock Hill — home of, among others, former Gamecocks All-American and 2015 overall No. 1 NFL draft pick Jadeveon Clowney — that degree of prosperity hasn’t extended across the state line. When USC met North Carolina in the 2015 season opener in Charlotte, the Tar Heels boasted 18 players from the Queen City, and the Gamecocks only Bryant.
Muschamp is trying to change that in a city that boasts thousands of USC alumni working in the Charlotte banking industry, sends hundreds of incoming freshmen to Columbia each fall, and saw more garnet than light blue in Bank of America Stadium when the Gamecocks last played there under former head coach Steve Spurrier two seasons ago.
“We’ve got three coaches full-time here that recruit the Charlotte area, and we have six that recruit the state of North Carolina. But there’s some really good players here," said Muschamp, who appeared along with North Carolina State head coach Dave Doeren.
USC has made inroads in North Carolina before. Muschamp mentioned Melvin Ingram from Halmet, Travian Robertson from Laurinburg, and Pharoh Cooper and Corey Robinson from Havelock. "There are some really good players from the state of North Carolina … who have come to South Carolina and played and had great careers,” he said.
They need more. “It’s critical for us to do a good job in North Carolina, because of the lack of numbers in our state. Only having four a half million people, we’ve got to be able to recruit the state of North Carolina.”
Muschamp said he likes the idea of neutral-site games in areas where USC recruits heavily, such as Charlotte, Atlanta and Florida. But he cautioned that the Gamecocks’ recruiting fortunes in Charlotte won’t hinge on the outcome of the Sept. 2 season opener against the Wolfpack.
“I don’t know that one game defines you as far as recruiting. If it does define you with a recruit, I don’t know if you want the recruit,” he said. “But I think the exposure as much as anything, the style of offense, the style of defense, special teams and the way your team plays, I think can help you with a recruit.”
— USC’s preseason camp will open July 27, Muschamp said. And he doesn’t expect practice to be impacted by a recent SEC rule change eliminating two-a-day practices in the preseason. When USC did hold two-a-days, he said, the second session was a non-contact practice in helmets. Now, a second practice in a single day must be a walkthrough or meeting.
“I understand the legislation moving forward, to have a one-a-day practice, to be able to still have walkthroughs and those sort of things I think are important,” he said. “The way the calendar was set up, you only had two or three two-a-days, anyway, even if you wanted to be in full pads. We did it them helmets, to take some of the hit off them. And we’re so thin, we can’t afford any injuries.”