College Sports

Trip to Tampa could pay dividends for Gamecocks

TAMPA, Fla. -- As South Carolina players filed out of the Jefferson High locker room Saturday for their first Outback Bowl practice, Jarvis Giles stood behind a waist-high, chain-link fence and watched them take the field.

With his long, golden-tipped dreadlocks and big smile, Giles was the most visible of the Tampa-area recruits to visit a Gamecocks bowl practice. But he was not the only one.

USC's weeklong stay in Tampa has given the Gamecocks what amounts to seven days of free publicity in one of the nation's most fertile recruiting grounds.

Shane Beamer, who was named recruiting coordinator after David Reaves left to join brother-in-law Lane Kiffin's Tennessee staff, said USC has had between 20 and 30 high school coaches and players drop by for the Gamecocks' workouts.

NCAA rules prohibit USC's coaches from talking to the recruits because this is a so-called "dead period" on the recruiting calendar. Even if he has to give prospects the silent treatment, Beamer is glad to have them around.

"It's great to have them come out and see how we work and see the fun that we have and the kind of players we have on our team," he said. "It's been beneficial."

USC has four Tampa-area players on its roster: Jefferson product Stephen Garcia, cornerback Stoney Woodson from Tampa's Middleton High and offensive linemen Kevin Young and Seaver Brown of Clearwater.

But there are more on the way.

Giles, a Tampa tailback rated the nation's No. 4 all-purpose back by, and Bradenton tailback Ben Axon, a former Clemson commitment, have committed to the Gamecocks. USC also is recruiting Lindsey Lamar, a tailback from Tampa's Hillsborough High.

"They do a good job. Since I've been here, we see them every year," Jefferson coach Mike Fenton said of the Gamecocks' recruiting efforts in Tampa.

"Any time you play in a bowl game, whatever city you're at, I think it gives you a lot of notoriety. It doesn't hurt recruiting at all," Fenton added. "The fact that Stephen also played here at Jefferson, frankly, I think has given South Carolina a lot of notoriety in the Tampa area."

About 40 Tampa-area players signed scholarships with Division I schools last year, according to a Tampa Tribune list of signees.

College and NFL stars to come out of Tampa include Reche Caldwell, a receiver for USC coach Steve Spurrier at Florida, and his brother Andre, a receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals; Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley; and University of Miami quarterback Robert Marve, who announced Tuesday he will transfer.

Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis is from Kathleen High in nearby Lakeland.

"Tampa has excellent high school football, all through the city and area," said Spurrier, who played for the Bucs and coached the Tampa Bay Bandits of the USFL.

Reaves, whose father lives in Tampa, recruited the area for the Gamecocks. USC running backs coach Robert Gillespie has since taken over Tampa, although Beamer said the recruiting responsibilities would not be finalized until Spurrier hires two new assistants.

USC has committed as many as six recruiters to Florida in the past. That does not include Spurrier, whose name still carries some weight around the state.

"Every person I talk to so far (says), 'Oh, you're going to South Carolina? You're going to be with Steve Spurrier. That's a good coach,'" Giles said. "There's not one person I've talked to that didn't know about Steve Spurrier. That's what South Carolina is known for is Steve Spurrier."