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The distance from Dillon to Columbia is 108 miles, but a well-worn recruiting trail is starting to make the two places seem closer.
When wide receiver Kwinton Smith made the move from Dillon High to the University of South Carolina last year, he set in motion a caravan that looks to be gaining speed.
Smith, who redshirted as a freshman, is being followed to USC by two former Dillon teammates, offensive linemen D.J. Park and Bryce King.
Park has enrolled at USC this semester, while King will sign his letter of intent Wednesday. Dillon junior linebacker Joe Blue has gotten on board as USCs first commitment in the Class of 2014. If thats not enough, the Gamecocks have already offered a scholarship to Dillon freshman quarterback Avery McCall.
Jackie Hayes, Dillons Hall of Fame football coach, credits Smiths influence.
Those guys respect him so much. He probably has been one of the biggest keys in getting those guys to look at South Carolina, Hayes said. Most all of the guys have played together at some point. It turns into one of those things where they try to recruit each other.
King calls the momentum of the Dillon-to-Columbia movement an exciting thing for the folks in the Pee Dee town of 6,800 near the Carolinas border.
There is a little buzz going around, he said. A lot of people follow us in Dillon and they like going to watch us play. I think there will be a lot of Dillon people that end up at the (USC) games and watching them (on TV).
It also comes down to success at Dillon High and USC. Dillon has played in four of the last five Class AA state championship games, winning three. USC has become more attractive to recruits after consecutive 11-win seasons.
I put the word in that right now its a great time to be here, Smith said of selling other Dillon players on USC. The program is moving in the right direction and keeps going up. You can show them where were headed.
Hayes said the Gamecock assistant coaches also do a good job of selling the program, which has received off-the-field enhancements in recent years, such as the Dodie Anderson Academic Enrichment Center.
They play in the SEC and theyre pretty much on TV every weekend and get a lot of national exposure, Hayes said. One of the other key things is they promote the academic part and do a tremendous job with that. They make the kids feel safe with academics because theyve got all the resources there to help them be successful.
King, a 6-foot-3, 293-pound center, said the decision to go to South Carolina came easy.
I grew up a Gamecock fan so it was my dream to play for Carolina. When I got the opportunity, I just wanted to take it. he said.
He said the choice was made easier because of Smith and Park making the same decision.
Knowing that the guys I played with in high school are going to be at the same college made me feel a lot better about going, said King, who added that USC offensive line coach Shawn Elliotts recruitment of him played a role as well.
The 6-4, 206-pound Smith, who chose USC over Florida and LSU, figures to play a key role in the receiving corps in the coming season. His pitch to his Dillon teammates included the idea of winning championships in Columbia like they did in high school.
We can do the same thing here, he said.
King has listened intently to what Smith had to say.
He said its a lot bigger and its a lot tougher than high school, King said. But he also said it was a lot of fun and that we would enjoy it. I cant wait to get up there and be with my buddies and play some football.
Smith has really enjoyed getting to know all of his USC teammates.
You see all these guys on TV, and then you get a personal relationship with them, Smith said. Its great being around all these coaches and players and learning from them. It makes you a better person.
Hayes, whose 2012 championship season upped his 21-season mark to 238-48, wont call the Dillon-to-Columbia connection a pipeline. He believes in each case that his players are making the best individual decision for themselves. He puts them in a position to do that.
We try to help them academically and develop them as football players, he said. It shows if you stick with a plan and do the things that you need to do that theres going to be a bigger opportunity for you.
Right now a lot of that opportunity is headed on a path down I-95 to I-20 and then on to I-77, which happens to run right past Williams-Brice Stadium.
The success theyve had has really leapfrogged them into being one of the elite programs, Hayes said. Everybody wants to be a part of success.
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