Just six weeks after its 31-30 triumph over Clemson, South Carolina's football team has seen a number of its players decide to enter the transfer portal or declare for the upcoming NFL draft.
However, reinforcements are on the way. The 2023 team will feature incoming transfer players from all over the college football landscape and freshmen from one of the program’s best recruiting classes in recent history.
National Signing Day
For head coach Shane Beamer, each recruiting cycle comes with its ebbs and flows, but he said this class was "two years in the making" since he worked on recruiting these incoming freshmen since he was hired in December 2020. Beamer expressed optimism for the class of 2023 during a media availability on Early National Signing Day, which took place on Dec. 21, 2022.
“I was in so many of these players’ homes over the last few weeks and told them all that this class we’re signing — I’m really excited about their potential and ability as players,” Beamer said. “But I’m even more excited about the kind of people they are (and) the families they come from.”
The Gamecocks’ 2023 recruiting class is ranked seventh in the SEC and No. 16 nationally, marking the program's highest-rated class since 2018, according to 247Sports.
The 2023 class has players from nine different states and includes six national All-Americans. Seven players come from South Carolina, including three of the state’s top four recruits.
Special teams coordinator Pete Lembo said it's rewarding to see athletes with great technical skills and personalities join the program.
“For a lot of these guys, we have been recruiting them since we arrived two years ago, and it’s so neat to see that now they’re actually here and a part of the family,” Lembo said.
One recruit the program kept an eye on, Grayson “Pup” Howard, is a 4-star linebacker from Jacksonville, Florida, who totaled 345 tackles during his junior and senior seasons at Andrew Jackson High School. Beamer said Howard has been active in recruiting his peers to join the Gamecocks as well.
“When I told you guys last week about a text message that I got from a recruit saying ‘We want people in this program that will die for this university,’ that was Pup,” Beamer said. “Obviously his ability as a player speaks for itself, but when you get to know him, you guys are going to love him."
Howard will be a part of a revamped defensive line, joining 4-star edge rushers Desmond Umeozulu and Monteque Rhames, as well as 4-star defensive lineman Xzavier McLeod, who was named Mr. South Carolina Football in December 2022.
Notable additions to the Gamecocks’ secondary include 4-star safety Jalon Kilgore, 4-star defensive back Vicari Swain and 3-star defensive back Cameron Upshaw, who defensive coordinator Clayton White said has a lot of potential.
“(He’s) another defensive back that can do multiple things — he plays corner, he plays quarterback, he plays safety,” White said. "It makes it very fun for us to move our pieces of the puzzle around as we think about this thing going into 2023.”
Depth at tight end and offensive line became thin following the departure of many experienced veterans at those positions. 4-star offensive lineman Markee Anderson, who is the second-best player in the state according to 247Sports, 4-star offensive tackle Oluwatosin “Tree” Babalade and 3-star tight ends Connor Cox and Reid Mikeska will join the program to provide some relief.
This year’s class includes highly-touted players at other skill positions on offense, such as 4-star running back Dontavius Braswell and 3-star wide receiver CJ Adams.
South Carolina was also able to flip the commitment of 4-star quarterback LaNorris Sellers, the top recruit in the state at the position. Sellers, who previously committed to Syracuse University, threw for 2,949 yards, 45 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions. He ran for an additional 1,337 yards and 22 touchdowns on 144 carries, leading South Florence High School to the 2022 South Carolina 4A state championship.
Although the early signing period for high school players is over, the Gamecocks will look to add recruits to its class of 2023 when another signing period opens on Feb. 1, 2023.
South Carolina’s recruits from the class of 2023 will be accompanied by several incoming transfer players, some from within the SEC and others from outside Division I.
After losing all four of its active tight ends to the transfer portal, retirement and graduation, the Gamecocks introduced three transfer players to the position. Senior Trey Knox, redshirt sophomore Joshua Simon and freshman Nick Elksnis all announced their decision to play for South Carolina.
Knox has experience playing under offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, who served as a tight ends coach while the two were at Arkansas. Knox totaled 892 yards and nine touchdowns on 81 career catches in four seasons with the Razorbacks.
Simon, a native of Dalzell, South Carolina was named to the 2022 Conference-USA all-conference second team after totaling 273 yards and seven touchdowns on 20 receptions for Western Kentucky.
Elksnis has yet to catch a pass as a tight end after making nine appearances on special teams at Florida, but he was listed as the No. 14 tight end of the class of 2021, according to 247Sports.
The Gamecocks added to its backfield by bringing in redshirt sophomore running back Mario Anderson Jr., who was one of the top Division II players in the country and ran for 3,301 yards and 35 touchdowns on 513 carries across three seasons at Newberry College. Anderson Jr. totaled 1,560 yards and 19 touchdowns on 211 attempts last season on his way to being named a Division II first-team All-American by the Associated Press and a finalist for the Harlon Hill Trophy, the Division II equivalent of the Heisman Trophy.
“He’s a productive running back with a lot of experience and a lot of production as well during his time in college, and he’s somebody that we’d had on our radar,” Beamer said. “Taylor Edwards had Clayton White watch (his tape) from a defensive perspective (and) Pete Lembo watch it from an overall teams perspective … and both those guys were like, “This guy’s a heck of a running back, no matter what level he's coming from.”
South Carolina received a commitment from senior offensive lineman Nick Gargiulo, who has appeared in 25 games, including 14 starts at left tackle. Beamer said he is impressed with Gargiulo’s toughness, experience and leadership qualities, which led him to be named a captain for the Bulldogs.
“At Yale, on sports teams, you don’t have multiple captains, you have one,” Beamer said. “It’s the one guy that has the most votes, and he is the captain of the Yale football team forever, and that was Nick.”
The Gamecocks also received commitments from sophomore offensive lineman Sidney Fugar and freshman linebacker Jaron Willis. Fugar made 10 appearances and nine starts for Western Illinois, while Willis did not record any statistics in his first season at Ole Miss.
While South Carolina has added quality and depth on both sides of the football via the transfer portal and recruiting, Beamer said that there are more personnel additions to make before the fall.
“Certainly, we’re not done. I mean, there’s a lot of work still to do with the class that we’re putting together right now," Beamer said. "There’s some young men that haven’t made decisions yet that we’re still recruiting ... but this is a fantastic start."