STONE MOUNTAIN, Ga. — No offense to Ames, Iowa or Bloomington, Ind., but playing college football in Columbia, S.C., offers slightly more appeal to a kid from Atlanta.
D.J. Wonnum committed to Iowa State the summer before his senior year at Stephenson High School.
After decommitting in the fall, he committed to Indiana on Jan. 22. Days later, South Carolina put the full-court press on and invited him to take an official visit. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound three-star was committed to Gamecocks before the weekend was over.
“I’d told them that I was going to stick with what I had – stick with Indiana – but coach (Travaris Robinson), he kept calling me and kept calling me,” Wonnum said. “They showed me they really wanted me, so I just decided to take the visit.
“I guess I just liked it better, a lot better than Indiana, so I guess I went with them.”
Proximity to home, the SEC and an opportunity for playing time — South Carolina had the edge.
“I’m just glad he’s going to be in Columbia,” said his mom, Consuela. “First of all, it’s only three hours away, the drive is much better. I can go to all the games if I want to, because he’ll be playing other teams in the area. I’m just glad it’s Columbia and where it is, where he’s going to be.”
Just within the last few years, Stephenson High coach Ron Gartrell has sent several of his players to Columbia. 49ers running back Mike Davis is the most notable member of the bunch, but defensive backs Kadetrix Marcus, Kyle Fleetwood and Ali Groves all signed with South Carolina out of Stephenson.
“(Wonnum) stacks right up there with the best of them. We’ve had some great players come out of here and do some great things, football-wise,” Gartrell said. “His parents are probably preaching to him – we’ve had a lot of kids graduate (college), too. That’s the goal, to play in the SEC and get a degree from the University of South Carolina.”
“I look forward to him going down there – first and foremost – putting education before football. I’d love for him to get the degree,” Dennis Wonnum Sr. said. “The football stuff is going to work itself out.”
So far, that’s sort of how it’s gone for Wonnum, who was a late-bloomer, physically.
“So by him growing late, he missed out on a lot of early opportunities, as far as playing early in high school. … He started to grow and getting on the field, so I felt pretty good about it, probably his junior year when he was actually playing tight end,” Dennis Sr. said.
Rated with three stars and ranked as the No. 78 weak-side defensive end in the class of 2016, Wonnum collected offers from California, Cincinnati, Colorado State, Memphis and USF. Though he felt fortunate to have the opportunities, there was a time when Wonnum wasn’t all that pleased with his recruiting profile.
“I felt like I was kind of overlooked,” he said, “But it really didn’t matter, because as soon as you get to college, it’s going to go away anyway. You’ve just got to work.”
That’s exactly what Wonnum plans on doing when he reports on May 25.
“As soon as I get there, I’m going to hit the weight room and try to put on some weight,” he said. “They said I have a chance to play early and prove myself that I can play early, as soon as I get there.”
Gartrell certainly believes the future is bright.
“He has the size. He has the athletic ability. He played several different positions for us, but probably could have played more than we asked him to,” Gartrell said, “And when you’ve got that kind of talent, you deserve an opportunity to play with the best and the SEC is where the best players are.
“I think he’ll fit in. He’ll have some growing pains, like all of us do, struggles here and there, but hopefully he’s learned to not let those things set him back and to keep moving forward. Before it’s over with, I think he’ll be one of the best players to ever play at South Carolina.”