Final decision: Blackshear glad pressure’s off after committing to Gamecocks a year ago

dmclemore@thestate.comMay 20, 2014 

Shameik Blackshear

DWAYNE MCLEMORE — dmclemore@thestate.com

— Wednesday will be one year since defensive end Shameik Blackshear committed to South Carolina. How the Bluffton High star marks the occasion is good news for the Gamecocks.

“I’m celebrating the anniversary by keeping my commitment 100 percent,” Blackshear said. “It’s a great school, great people. It’s the same feeling. I’m still a Gamecock.”

Blackshear announced his USC pledge via Twitter on May 21, 2013, as his sophomore year at Bluffton came to a close. Looking back, he said, it was an easy decision.

And it was a way for the state’s top prospect for 2015 to defuse a recruitment explosion.

“It got crazy around here real quick,” Bluffton coach Ken Cribb said. “I tried to prepare him as best I could. It overwhelmed him. He didn’t realize how bad it was going to get until it hit.”

‘STILL GOING TO BE A KID’

Blackshear wasn’t crazy about the craziness.

South Carolina recruiter Everette Sands was the first to offer a scholarship in late 2012 during a breakout sophomore season in which Blackshear recorded 94 tackles (17 for loss), five sacks, two fumble recoveries, a blocked punt and three touchdowns.

Since then, “everybody” has offered, according to Cribb, including North Carolina, Clemson, Florida and Florida State.

Blackshear’s star rose higher after he won defensive MVP honors at a 2013 Rivals camp in Charlotte. Offers from Tennessee, Georgia, Louisville and Alabama soon followed.

He admitted to not being prepared for the onslaught of attention, especially having to leave class four or five times per day when a different recruiter stopped by to say hello and try to make an impression.

“Sometimes, when I got to school, I had to meet somebody as soon as I got there. I couldn’t go to my locker or talk to my friends,” he recalled. “I was like, ‘Nah, that’s not going to work. It’s not going to take over my life. I’m going to still be a kid. I can’t let it overrule me and let me stress me out.’

“I had no time for myself – just football and schoolwork. I knew where I wanted to go, so I was going to let it be known instead of everybody coming to see me and wasting their time and me being aggravated with it.”

The attention was every day. And it was nonstop.

“I was hating life, and I know it was worse for him,” Cribb said. “He’s appreciative, but he wants to concentrate a little bit and have a little bit of space and privacy.”

A CITY BOY

Blackshear was born in New York City and moved with his family to Bluffton when he was 11. He liked South Carolina and was rooting for the Gamecocks long before they became his first offer, he said.

He cited the coaching staff, the campus, academics and the school’s success with players being drafted to the NFL as reasons he chose the Gamecocks.

And ...

“I’m not really a country boy. I’d rather be in a city like Columbia,” he said. “It’s close to home. I’ve got a lot of family and good friends in Columbia. It’s just like being back in Bluffton.”

The elite prospects in any class are most likely to take their recruitment into January or even to National Signing Day. Not everyone decides to wait, though.

Among 247Sports’ Top 50 players for the Class of 2015, 19 are committed. Twelve of those made a pledge this year. Five, including Blackshear, committed in 2013; two did so in 2012.

Blackshear is considered the No. 1 prospect in the state by all major rankings except ESPN, which has him No. 3 behind Crestwood running back Ty’Son Williams and Orangeburg-Wilkinson defensive tackle Albert Huggins.

While Blackshear declared his top schools equal in mid-April of last year, he knew all along that USC was where he wanted to be, according to Cribb.

“When you can get the No. 1 kid in the state and one of the best in the country at his position to commit 20 months out, that’s a big deal,” said Chad Simmons, national analyst for Scout.

GETTING HEALTHY

South Carolina had six prospects commit before their junior seasons began. Two have backed off those pledges.

Blackshear has no plans to follow in their footsteps.

He doesn’t plan to visit any other schools except USC, he said. His focus is getting back to full health after injuries sidetracked his junior season. He’s recovered from a separated shoulder and a crack in his left wrist, but his surgically repaired dislocated left pinky finger still is healing.

247Sports considers him a five-star prospect, but those injuries hurt his performance and cost him his fifth star from Rivals, the network announced this week. “Blackshear will likely need to return to dominant form during his senior season to show he belongs among the five stars in this year’s class,” wrote Rivals Southeast recruiting analyst Woody Wommack.

Rivals considers Blackshear the No. 27 player in the country.

“It’s just rankings,” Blackshear said. “I’m going to play for me, and wherever they put me, they put me. I know when I get on the field, whether I’m the No. 1 player in the country or the last player in the country, I’m going to give it all I’ve got.”

In addition to defensive end and linebacker, Blackshear will play tailback, tight end and wide receiver this season to help the Bobcats return to the playoffs after falling short last year.

“I’d like to see him healthy so he could really train to see how good he can get,” Cribb said. “I think he can be as good of a player in the nation as there is. I think he can be No. 1.”

LIFE IS GOOD

His early commitment to the Gamecocks had the desired effect: Coaches stopped coming by the school en masse, and his phone stopped being inundated.

“It’s perfect,” he said. “I can just focus on me without people hitting me up.”

Blackshear said he hears the most from USC and Florida State, with mail still coming from Alabama.

Cribb expected the other schools to push harder.

“They’re doing a good job respecting his commitment,” Cribb said. “There are a couple of the big boys making sure he understands that if he has a change of heart that they’re there. They’re really giving Carolina the respect they deserve by how they’re handling it. They’re not trying to push on him.”

Blackshear stays busy with schoolwork, football and works stocking shelves at Kroger. He likes to ride four-wheelers, play video games and “just be a kid.”

He doesn’t miss the attention that was building more than a year ago. And he won’t miss that spotlight in the coming months either, he said.

Has it been a year already that he committed to the Gamecocks? It feels longer, Blackshear said.

“It just shows that I’m not worried about other schools,” he said. “Time is just going by. The days are counting down until I’m going to be a Gamecock. That’s a good thing. ... I’m not about to change my decision up. I’m going with the Gamecocks, and that’s it.”

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