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Searching for next Jadeveon Clowney: Shane Beamer's plan to resurrect South Carolina involves owning his backyard

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – The signs of a new direction for South Carolina football came unexpectedly to Greenville (S.C.) High School head coach Greg Porter this spring. 

The first arrived from one of his former players, Trey Adkins, a walk-on who earned a scholarship at South Carolina. Porter recalled Adkins offering a telling distinction in Shane Beamer’s staff from the previous one: “The staff cares. They speak to the players, have conversations with them on a daily basis. It’s more than just football.”

Porter saw it himself this spring, when Beamer called to check in on him multiple times. “I was absolutely flabbergasted by that,” Porter told Yahoo Sports in a phone interview. “I was stunned. I don’t get a chance to talk to the head coach that much. He won me over with a simple phone call to say that I care.”

When South Carolina heads down to play No. 2 Georgia on Saturday, there'll be multiple reminders of what was and could be for the Gamecocks' program.

Beamer, a former UGA assistant, is not only facing his former boss and his old team. He’s also getting the first true measuring stick for how far South Carolina has to go to scale the top of the SEC East. That’s something South Carolina did in 2010 during Beamer’s time as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator under Steve Spurrier. (Former South Carolina coach Will Muschamp will also be on the opposite sideline.)

Beamer’s grand plan to pull the Gamecocks back to that peak starts by minding South Carolina’s backyard. Beamer’s early re-positioning of the program has been positive. USC is 2-0 with wins over Eastern Illinois and East Carolina and has recruited the country’s No. 18 class, according to Rivals.com

Sep 4, 2021; Columbia, South Carolina, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks head coach Shane Beamer leads his team onto the field before a game against the Eastern Illinois Panthers at Williams-Brice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports
South Carolina head coach Shane Beamer leads his team onto the field before a game against Eastern Illinois. (Jeff Blake/USA TODAY Sports)

That first-year coach joyride is likely to hit its first bump this weekend as BetMGM has South Carolina as a 30.5-point underdog and it should struggle to move the ball against UGA’s salty defense.

What’s most important for South Carolina’s long-term arc under Beamer is the foundation he has established his first nine months on the job. Beamer personally called every one of the more than 175 head high school coaches in South Carolina. He has energized the high school coaches in the state, some of whom felt that Muschamp’s staff prioritized out-of-state recruiting.

“The previous staff I thought did a really good job when they first got there,” said Dustin Curtis, the head coach at AC Flora High School in Columbia. “To be honest, it felt like they cared more about recruiting Georgia and Florida. Some of the tight-knit connections faded a little bit.

“Shane has been welcoming. The staff has made recruiting our state a huge priority.”

For Beamer, it’s obvious why. He saw South Carolina rise to a power in the not-so-distant past. He was on staff when it beat No. 1 Alabama and started a streak of beating Clemson five straight years. “I’m not selling some pipe dream,” he said. “I’ve seen it done.”

Spurrier’s wheelhouse players during that era were in-state kids — Jadeveon Clowney, Stephon Gilmore, Marcus Lattimore, Alshon Jeffery and D.J. Swearinger. Beamer’s goal is to capture that next generation of in-state stars.

Beamer’s early in-roads have yet to yield fruition. Of the 17 commitments for 2022, only two are from South Carolina. Of the best players in the state so far this year, three of the top four have committed to Clemson and the other to Notre Dame.

Turning a recruiting battleship takes time, as Clemson coaches had targeted those players during the sputtering days of the Muschamp regime, which ended with a two-win season in 2020. “We've got to continue to just attack and win those battles,” Beamer said.

The world has changed a lot since 2010, of course. When a non-traditional power like South Carolina rises, there’s usually a confluence of reasons enabling it. In 2010, Florida’s Urban Meyer was amid his worst season as a college coach (8-5), Georgia had a losing season under Mark Richt (6-7) and Clemson had a losing season under Dabo Swinney (6-7).

That’s why Beamer needs to focus on the details. Curtis pointed out that Beamer has prioritized filling the school’s preferred walk-on program with in-state kids, a strong way to make in-roads.

Beamer has also brought in coaches with deep South Carolina ties, which Curtis said is different than a staff that’s there just because it wants to coach in the SEC. Tight ends coach Erik Kimrey is a third-generation Gamecock, wide receivers coach Justin Stepp is a Columbia native and former star quarterback Connor Shaw is the director of football relations.

Beamer also has plenty of connections to former South Carolina players who now populate the state’s coaching ranks. Former Gamecock star and NFL player DeVonte Holloman is the head coach at South Point High School in Rock Hill, the South Carolina power where he, Clowney and Gilmore all attended.

Holloman joked there’s “a couple of more orange claws” around when he was in high school, a nod to Clemson’s emergence as a national power in the past decade. But he said the Rock Hill area, one of the country’s more fertile recruiting grounds, retains a heavy Gamecock presence.

“It’s a place where a lot of our kids want to go and want to be,” Holloman said. “Staying home, it’s been done at home. They can achieve their dreams there, play competitive football. It’s a dream for a lot of our kids.”

Beamer arrived to a dazzling new $50 million football facility. It includes the most modern amenities, right down to a recording studio donated by Darius Rucker, a former student at the school and huge supporter. 

Beamer immediately prioritized bonding with the current roster. He hired three strong coordinators – offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield, defensive coordinator Clayton White and special teams coach Pete Lembo – which has allowed him to lock in on individual relationships with players.

Barnwell High School coach Dwayne Garrick compared Beamer’s personable and folksy style to Clemson’s Swinney, who has long been the master of connection and relationships.

And Beamer knows the best messengers for him are his current players. Beamer delighted in relaying that the players would wander in his office this spring during the NCAA men's basketball tournament to watch games on his oversized television.

“It allows me to just be involved and around our players as much as I possibly can be,” Beamer said of having three strong coordinators, “and just infuse that personal relationship with those guys and just getting to know them.”

Beamer was born in Charleston when his father, Hall of Fame coach Frank Beamer, coached at The Citadel. Two of Shane and Emily Beamer’s three kids were born while he was in Columbia as an assistant. He has strong ties to the state and knows that continuing to build them will be the key to unlocking the power of the state.

“This place is hungry for a winner,” Beamer said, “and has resources in my opinion that you need to be successful.”