COLUMBIA, SC — Don't look now, but South Carolina has the No. 3 recruiting class in the nation for 2015.
Seriously, don't look. Not yet.
National Signing Day for 2015 is 545 days away. While team recruiting rankings will fluctuate, the Gamecocks are well on their way to a solid class of prospects.
USC has commitments from six rising high school juniors. They include five-star defensive end Shameik Blackshear of Bluffton High and four more four-star prospects, according to 247Composite, which factors in all networks.
"It's amazing. Every single year it changes where you need to be and what you need to do," said Steve Spurrier Jr., USC's recruiting coordinator. "We have to keep up with that."
Colleges are extending verbal scholarship offers earlier than ever. The result is that prospects are starting - and finishing - the recruiting process faster.
More than 60 athletes from the Class of 2015 have announced college decisions to 35 schools. Texas leads the country with eight, while Alabama and Tennessee each have five. Kentucky and Missouri are the only SEC schools without a 2015 commitment.
South Carolina's first 2015 pledge, wide receiver Dexter "D.J." Neal of Stone Mountain, Ga., didn't set out on the recruiting trail planning to end the journey so soon. It just worked out that way.
Eight months after his first offer from Virginia Tech, and with visits to South Carolina, Tennessee, Clemson, Florida, Virginia Tech, West Virginia and others, he committed to the Gamecocks.
Neal was still a sophomore at Stephenson High when he announced his pledge May 16 after his school's spring game. His reason for committing ahead of his junior season echoes that of USC's other 2015 commitments: He was ready to get the decision behind him.
"I knew it was the right school for me, so I got it over with," he said. "I won't have anything to worry about during the school year."
Two months later, his Stephenson High teammate Chauncey Rivers committed to USC. The junior defensive end also had offers from Florida, Auburn and others.
Earlier offers allow high school athletes more time to investigate their options, seek out information and visit the schools, according to Corey Johnson, Stephenson High linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator.
"We love the fact that kids are making early decisions," Johnson said. "That puts us ahead of the curve. I don't want my kids to be caught up in a situation where they have to chase a school. I want them to be able to have their first choice at hand."
The Gamecocks also have a 2015 pledge from Arden Key, a junior defensive end at Martin Luther King Jr. High in Lithonia, Ga. First Coast High (Fla.) teammates Sherrod Pittman, a linebacker, and Jerad Washington, a receiver, have also announced for USC.
For those making these early commitments with two more years of high school to go, the recruiting process won't officially end until Feb. 4, 2015. Until then, colleges will continue to come by - South Carolina will be one of them.
"We'll be recruiting them as hard as anybody," Spurrier Jr. said. "You always have to hang on until the end, without a doubt."
USC class of 2015 commitments
-- Shameik Blackshear, DE, 6-5, 235 - Bluffton, SC
-- Arden Key, DE, 6-5, 200 - Lithonia, Ga.
-- Chauncey Rivers, DE, 6-2, 232 - Stone Mountain, Ga.
-- Dexter Neal, WR, 6-3, 195 - Stone Mountain, Ga.
-- Jerad Washington, WR, 5-9, 165 - Jacksonville, Fla.
-- Sherrod Pittman, LB, 6-1, 215 - Jacksonville, Fla.