Gamecocks in Shrine Bowl building bonds for the future

dmclemore@thestate.comDecember 20, 2013 

Dillon High's Joe Blue looks for room to run during Shrine Bowl practice at Spartanburg High School.

GERRY MELENDEZ — gmelendez@thestate.com

— The South Carolina team wears red jerseys in the Shrine Bowl, but there is a garnet and black feel to this year’s all-star game.

And of all the benefits of being selected as among the best football players in the Carolinas, it’s the connections made with future teammates that rank among the highest perks, players said this week.

“I’m out here to get chemistry with some of the guys that are committed to South Carolina too,” Gaffney wide receiver Shaq Davidson said. “We’re 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 year’s game, all on the Sandlappers’ squad. With the exception of Dillon fullback Joe Blue, they’re 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

“It’s pretty fun,” Ritchie said. “Everybody is right there. We’re already creating a good friendship.”

Blue, the first commitment for USC’s 2014 class, said the future Gamecocks know each other already from campus visits. But there’s something different about spending a week together preparing for a game.

“We’re making a bond before we get on campus next year,” he said. “We need to have a bond right now.”

This year’s 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 Saturday’s game, split between the two states’ teams.

Eight of the Gamecocks’ 16 pledges for this year’s 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 that’s a good thing,” Davidson said. “Everybody’s competing and trying to make each other better. We’re all hanging out together and getting to know each other. We’ve been talking about next year about being together.”

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