ROEBUCK -- Reggie Bowens didn't hesitate.
"I'm coming to South Carolina," the soft-spoken linebacker from Garner (N.C.) said. "I made my commitment around October and I think they got a great coaching staff there."
The gusts swirling around Dorman High School's practice fields Thursday as South Carolina and North Carolina prepared for Saturday's Shrine Bowl represented more to a handful of players than a welcome breeze. With the news earlier this week that USC defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix resigned from the Gamecocks to take the same job at Ole Miss, the winds of change were spinning around the Gamecocks' recruiting class.
USC doesn't have a signed letter-of-intent from any of the 17 commitments on its early list. And it's not like the Gamecocks are strangers to verbal commitments being reneged.
Richland Northeast star Gary Gray gave his verbal commitment last year to kick-start what would become USC's epic recruiting class, ranked as high as fourth nationally. Then he backed out of it, re-opened his recruiting and wound up at Notre Dame.
South Carolina has five USC commitments on its Shrine Bowl team -- Summerville quarterback Reid McCollum, Aynor offensive lineman T.J. Johnson, Newberry defensive tackle Kenny Davis, Greenwood athlete Jay Spearman and Chester athlete C.C. Whitlock. Bowens is the only Gamecock commitment on North Carolina's team and the biggest question mark.
Or was. Despite Bowens saying just a few days ago that Nix was the biggest reason he chose USC, Bowens reaffirmed his commitment and said he was looking forward to enrolling in the fall.
"He was somewhat a big factor," Bowens corrected. "He called me, I think, Monday or Tuesday. I didn't get the phone call, he left a message.
"It doesn't affect me. I think he made a good decision to benefit him."
Bowens will join former Garner teammate Chris Culliver in the fall. Culliver, who Bowens said talked with him several times during last season, returned kicks during his just-completed freshman year.
Bowens and Whitlock were the only defensive players directly courted by Nix and each said they weren't affected by the decision. Spearman and Davis said the same while McCollum and Johnson, as offensive players, weren't approached.
"He really didn't have too much of an influence over me anyway," Davis said. "He was the defensive coordinator. It might hurt us a little bit, but the defensive line coach (Brad Lawing) is who I'm going there for."
Spearman, who's playing defensive back this week but was recruited as an athlete, agreed. His uncle, Willie Robinson, and stepfather, Henry Cunningham, were at practice Thursday and said secondary coach Ron Cooper was the main recruiter they saw with Spearman.
"Not a bit," Spearman said, discussing the impact of Nix's departure. "Really, I liked all the coaches and the school. I've been a fan all my life."
With the question out of the way, the players returned to practice. The South Carolina kids have already bonded, Spearman, Whitlock and McCollum planning to join linebacker Shaq Wilson (Jacksonville, Fla.) in Columbia in January as early enrollees.
Bowens, the lone Tar Heel, says he's looking forward to hanging with his future teammates, but not until after Saturday. There's too much at stake right now to worry about next year -- North Carolina's won five of the past six Shrine Bowls and wants to add one more.
"We did a little talking," Bowens said. "We didn't really want to band until after the game."
So who's going to win?
"We are," Bowens grinned.
"Ahhh ... we've been working too hard," Whitlock rebutted, when informed of his future teammate's words. "My coach told me he's never seen a hard-working man that doesn't get paid."