South Carolina’s 2024 high school signing class has made history. For fans who follow recruiting, December 20th was an exciting day. For all those who don’t pay attention to recruiting, it’s simple: Shane Beamer’s team just got a lot better. In this class, Carolina signed two five-star players for the first time ever, and eight signees will play in All-American games. The overall team rankings have them at 20th in terms of high school recruits. This takes into account the total number of points. Therefore, more players equals more points. Carolina’s high school class is very small. Looking at the average player ranking (90.89) shows that South Carolina is ahead of teams like Nebraska (19), USC (18), Michigan (15), Penn State (14), Clemson (12), LSU (11), and Oklahoma (8). The quality of players that Beamer and staff are recruiting continues to increase, so this signing class is the best ever for the Gamecocks.
The Cream of the Crop
South Carolina made history with two five-star players inking their names to officially wear the garnet and black. High-profile players are a big part of why the 2024 signing class is the best the Gamecocks have ever had. Carolina improves the line of scrimmage play on both sides of the ball with the addition of edge Dylan Stewart and offensive tackle Josiah Thompson. These two are clear-cut five-star talents and have the potential to make an impact in a hurry. Thompson was “Mr. Football” in the state of South Carolina in 2023. He is the prototypical offensive tackle. He will gain weight and continue to grow into a top-level talent. Thompson projects as an early-round draft pick. If he continues on his current trajectory, he will protect South Carolina quarterbacks for the next three years and then be on his way to the NFL. Jaylen Nichols, the projected starter at left tackle in 2024, entered the transfer portal on National Signing Day. This opens an opportunity for a guy like Thompson to work his way into the offensive line rotation sooner rather than later.
On the other side of the ball, stand-up edge rusher Stewart fills a position of need and has the size and ability to play right away. To project him as a starter would be unprecedented in some ways. Even Jadeveon Clowney did not start as a freshman. Still, Stewart can help, especially in obvious passing situations. He is talented enough and has a high enough floor that even if teams know he is coming, he can still make his way into the backfield. This is the type of player that South Carolina needs now. Beamer commented on Wednesday that Stewart is “made of the right stuff” after seeing him calmly eat dinner while watching a horror movie during the coaches’ in-home visit. Look for Stewart to bring his own brand of horror to opposing quarterbacks soon.
Below the Radar: Offense
Running back is a high position of need for the Gamecocks. With three portal additions, the room flipped for running backs coach Montario Hardesty. But Matthew Fuller brings another quality player to the fold. Fuller is a top 50 player in the state of Georgia and played for Jaybo Shaw, the brother of Gamecock legend Connor Shaw, in high school. At 6’ and 210 pounds, Fuller already has the build of an SEC back. The offense also got a third offensive lineman in Greenville High School’s Blake Franks. The Gamecocks beat an early lean to Clemson for Franks. After a spectacular senior season for the Red Raiders, the teammate of MJ Bennett adds quality depth to the offensive line room. He projects as an interior player and should have time to develop into a really good player for the Gamecocks down the road.
The latest addition to the class was wide receiver Debron Gatlin, a wide receiver from the Atlanta area. Gatlin played at a large high school, preparing him for a smooth transition to SEC football. He will be able to contribute in the receiver room more quickly than the more highly rated Bennett, although Bennett projects to have a more productive career overall. Finally, punter/kicker Mason Love gives the Gamecocks a special teams weapon to learn under Kai Kroeger. Love can also serve as a backup kicker now that the transfer portal left that position group a little lighter.
Below the Radar: Defense
The Gamecocks’ signing class on defense is one of the best the school has ever seen in large part due to the quality depth it brings. To begin, a junior college product Jerome Simmons signed with the Gamecocks on Wednesday. He is a big-bodied defensive tackle at 6’4” and 333 pounds. A big nose guard is important in the 3-3-5 defense that found so much success for Clayton White in 2023. Simmons brings excellent depth to that position. On the second level, Virginia native Fred “JR” Johnson is a linebacker who already has the size of an SEC player. Johnson is 6’3 and 225 pounds and has risen in the rankings. He is considered a four-star by the 247 Composite and pairs nicely with fellow linebacker signee Wendell Gregory. Johnson will need to gain strength like any freshman, but shows the ability to make plays at this level. He is a fast prospect who can play sideline to sideline.
In the secondary, safety David Bucey is the lowest-rated position player in the class. However, he brings a physicality that makes him pop on tape. Bucey will immediately contribute on special teams and give quality depth behind a talented group of safeties. His work ethic shows that he is a grinder. Don’t be surprised to see him overachieve. Finally, Jalewis “Juice” Solomon is a defensive back that the Gamecocks flipped from Auburn. The flip is another notable win that has not frequently occurred for the South Carolina coaching staff through the years. Solomon is electric and is considered the number nine athlete in the country. He is a composite four-star player as well. He will likely be too talented to keep off the field in meaningful snaps longer than his freshman campaign.
Celebrate and Understand
Fans will do well to celebrate the recruiting victories that Beamer and staff have won in this cycle. Although the transfer portal garners much of the attention and deserves some press, the high school class simply cannot be overlooked. Everyone is recruiting at a high level. This is a top-20 class and surpasses several historical marks, but it is still the tenth-ranked class in the SEC (out of 16). To compete with the best, recruiting at a high level is necessary. 2024 marks a time when building talent means more than high school recruiting and the incoming portal players. Now, more than ever, developing and holding onto current talent must also be celebrated.
South Carolina fans collectively raised over one million dollars since the season ended to contribute to NIL and an up to one million dollar anonymous match donation. That money, over two million dollars, was used to lock up the current talent on the roster and aid in acquiring more. The quality of players in the 2024 high school signing class is the best they’ve ever been for the Gamecocks. This should give fans a positive outlook as a new year rolls in. Portal activity will continue over the next few weeks. Stay tuned for updates before we turn the page towards Spring ball.