SPARTANBURG — The South Carolina team wears red jerseys in the Shrine Bowl, but there is a garnet and black feel to this years all-star game.
And of all the benefits of being selected as among the best football players in the Carolinas, its the connections made with future teammates that rank among the highest perks, players said this week.
Im out here to get chemistry with some of the guys that are committed to South Carolina too, Gaffney wide receiver Shaq Davidson said. Were trying to get the bond together so we can work on being together next year.
The Gamecocks have seven class of 2014 commitments in this years game, all on the Sandlappers squad. With the exception of Dillon fullback Joe Blue, theyre in the Shrine Bowl lineup in pairs:
- Tight ends Kevin KC Crosby and Kalan Ritchie
- Davidson and fellow wide receiver Tyshun Samuel
- Offensive linemen Donell Stanley and Malik Young
Its pretty fun, Ritchie said. Everybody is right there. Were already creating a good friendship.
Blue, the first commitment for USCs 2014 class, said the future Gamecocks know each other already from campus visits. But theres something different about spending a week together preparing for a game.
Were making a bond before we get on campus next year, he said. We need to have a bond right now.
This years Gamecocks representation in the Shrine Bowl is the most since 2010, when USC had nine future players in the game: Jadeveon Clowney, Shon Carson, the Dixon brothers, Jerell Adams, Phillip Dukes, Shamier Jeffery, Ronnie Martin and Brandon Shell.
Current freshmen Pharoh Cooper, Larenz Bryant, Bryce King, Gerald Turner and D.J. Park were Shrine Bowlers last year.
Clemson has five commitments in Saturdays game, split between the two states teams.
Eight of the Gamecocks 16 pledges for this years class are from inside South Carolina, which produced a deeper overall talent pool than in recent years. Summerville defensive back and USC pledge Darin Smalls likely would be a Shrine Bowl selection had he not suffered a season-ending knee injury.
The all-stars visited the Shriners Hospital for Children in Greenville earlier in the week. On top of a pair of two-hour practices most days, they get a few more hours together each day at meals and the team hotel.
For the seven future Gamecocks, every minute together is a chance to build camaraderie with those wearing the same jersey this week and eight months from now.
I feel like thats a good thing, Davidson said. Everybodys competing and trying to make each other better. Were all hanging out together and getting to know each other. Weve been talking about next year about being together.