There’s no good way to slice it for South Carolina. Missing out on 5-star defensive end Xavier Thomas stings.
Not only did Thomas commit to in-state rival Clemson, which is bad enough, but he plays a premium position where the Gamecocks need help.
Senior Dante Sawyer is projected to start at defensive end in 2017, with redshirt sophomore Shameik Blackshear and freshman M.J. Webb jockeying for time behind him.
Webb, who enrolled at South Carolina in January as a 4-star recruit, will be joined later this summer by 2017 classmate Aaron Sterling, the No. 17-ranked strongside defensive end in the country, according to the 247Sports composite rankings. Three-star prospect Tyreek Johnson, the Gamecocks’ first defensive end commitment in 2017, deferred his enrollment until January 2018.
While Thomas would have boosted the defensive end talent on South Carolina’s roster, there are a number of other 2018 prospects who could do the same.
Five-star K.J. Henry, who’s rated behind Thomas as the No. 2 weakside defensive end in the country, is at the top of that list. Henry (Clemmons, N.C.) recently released a top 10 that included South Carolina. And he visited Columbia earlier this month for the Garnet & Black spring game. However, Alabama, Clemson and Georgia are pegged as his primary options.
The Gamecocks are also in the mix for 4-star DE Stephon Wynn Jr., Thomas’ teammate at IMG Academy and originally from Anderson, S.C. Wynn, the No. 4 strongside defensive end, lists offers from several of the country’s top programs. He has visited South Carolina several times, even though his dad played college ball for Clemson.
Dorian Gerald, a junior college target at College of the Canyons in Valencia, Calif., might be the most viable option. Gerald, a 6-foot-3, 250-pound prospect originally from West Florence (S.C.) High School, will have three years to play two after his JUCO run is over. His offer sheet also includes Arizona State, Syracuse, Tennessee and Washington State.
Minnesota grad transfer Gaelin Elmore begins his official visit on Sunday, though he would likely play his final season of eligibility in 2017, even though he still has a redshirt season available.