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Boone leads swarm of Gamecocks to Mesabi Range

By TIM LEIBLE
tim@theitem.com
Posted 2/14/20

Sumter High School linebacker Kirkland Boone was one of several Gamecock football players that had to wait a little bit longer than they hoped to get an offer to continue their careers at the college level.

The undersized linebacker, as well as …

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Boone leads swarm of Gamecocks to Mesabi Range

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Sumter High School linebacker Kirkland Boone was one of several Gamecock football players that had to wait a little bit longer than they hoped to get an offer to continue their careers at the college level.

The undersized linebacker, as well as teammates Jarvel Scott, J'Quan Salmond and cousins Jamon and Nyquan Thames finally got the news they wanted a little later in the recruiting cycle when they got the call from Mesabi Range.

Boone was emotional when he signed his letter of intent, because it has been an uphill battle to get to this moment. Despite a successful career in a strong program, Boone struggled to get attention from scouts because he's a little smaller than the prototypical college linebacker.

"From the beginning, the recruiting process was kind of hard," said Boone. "To get the chance to prove myself and to be able to make my mom proud, represent and be an example for my little brothers is like living a dream."

That drive to prove himself makes Boone a special player in the eyes of Sumter head coach Mark Barnes. Barnes knows that Boone has what it takes to prove himself again at the collegiate level.

"I love Kirkland. He was a great player for us and an ultimate team guy. He plays relentlessly and does everything right," said Barnes. "Some people prove themselves early in life and some people have more gifts as far as height and speed, but with Kirkland, he's done everything that you'd want him to do. He's just not tall.

"That doesn't make him not a great player, he's just going to have to prove that at the next level, just like he has every other time in his life," continued the Sumter head coach. "We're confident with him because just the type of character he has and the drive he has, he's going to prove it again and create some opportunities for himself at the next level."

Boone was glad to see Mesabi Range reach out and offer a chance to continue his career. Mesabi Range is a junior college in Virginia, Minnesota, playing in the Minnesota College Athletic Conference. While it's not the biggest school in the world, Boone was happy to find a place he felt welcome.

"I felt wanted," said Boone. "I know I have the ability, but it was a process of finding somewhere to fit in as an undersized linebacker, but I was thankful and I was going to make the decision that was best for me and my family."

Now that Boone has found his new football home, Barnes is just excited to see how much he flourishes in college.

"Kirkland is going to do it no matter where Kirkland goes. That's just his DNA," said Barnes. "I've got a ton of confidence in him and I just look forward to him proving everyone wrong again."

Sumter's steady left tackle finds a home

One player who had similar issues to Boone for the Gamecocks will also join him at Mesabi Range. Scott was a multi-year contributor on the Sumter offensive line, but he isn't quite the size of a traditional left tackle. He was ecstatic to find a college to welcome him in despite his size.

"This means everything to me," said Scott, who stands 6-feet-1-inch tall and weighs 265 pounds. "This is all I've wanted to do since I was younger."

Barnes was glad to have a rock at left tackle while Scott was in the lineup, and he knows that the Sumter lineman has the skills to succeed in college.

"Jarvel has been a really great player for us on the left side. He does a great job of pass blocking," said Barnes. "At the next level, what people like about him is that he is a good pass blocker, he is physical and he's athletic for an offensive lineman. Now he's got to bulk up a little bit and still keep all those traits. Very likeable guy, catches on to schemes well and rules well. Those guys are hard to find. He's got an opportunity to keep progressing as a player and see if his body will allow him to become big enough to play at the next level for him."

Jamon and Nyquan Thames join the journey to Minnesota

Cousins Jamon and Nyquan Thames both have different reasons they didn't get as much attention from colleges, but they were glad to find somewhere to keep playing.

"This means a lot to me. I can't even explain how much I love this game," said Nyquan. "I feel at home (at Mesabi Range). All the coaches texted me and knew that I couldn't come up to visit, so they took me on a virtual tour and FaceTimed me. I felt at home and I felt like they wanted me there."

Jamon echoed those sentiments.

"It's a blessing, I've got to thank God, the Man upstairs, and my brothers who helped me through his," said Jamon. "It's a great opportunity."

While the Thames cousins are thrilled to have several teammates coming to the same school, having family with them made it even more special.

"Having my cousin with me is really a blessing. We've been through everything together, and I can't really see myself playing football without him," said Jamon.

The Thames cousins took different routes to Mesabi Range. Nyquan's biggest hurdle in high school was his health, as a series of injuries kept him off the field. Jamon, meanwhile, got some time on the field, but didn't stand out quite as much as the star-studded teammates around him as he played defensive line. Barnes was excited to see not only the Thames cousins, but all five of his players headed to Mesabi Range, find an opportunity.

"Everybody goes (to junior colleges) for different reasons," said Barnes. "You can look at our group and some of them are going because of academics, some of them are going because of injuries and they didn't get a chance to prove themselves, and some of them are going because they're a little shorter or not quite as fast as somebody wants you to be."

Nyquan was a player that Barnes always wanted to find a spot for, but injuries just seemed to get in the way. While the Sumter head coach doesn't know what position he'll land at in college, he knows that the skill is there to succeed.

"No. 1 is (Nyquan) is athletic. He runs really well, changes directions really well, he's got good hand-eye coordination. We tried him at (linebacker, defensive back and tailback) and every year something happened. Whether he tore his ACL (anterior cruciate ligament), he dislocated his elbow, he's had something that prevented him from reaching his potential," said Barnes. "Can he play DB? Probably. Can he play outside linebacker? Yes. Can he play tailback? Yes. So he is a 3-position guy that's got to find his way at the next level and get himself on the field and stay healthy and give himself an opportunity to find the right place."

As for Jamon, Barnes is looking forward to him finding the right opportunity to succeed.

"Jamon was a great player in our program; he's got a tremendous amount of athletic ability for a guy that plays inside on defense," said the Sumter head coach. "He just got an opportunity to go reinvent himself again and make himself more desirable at the next level and fix some things in the classroom that he needs to fix."

Salmond looks to make a splash at Mesabi

The other player Sumter has headed to Mesabi Range is Salmond. While he didn't get a ton of playing time at the high school level, he's excited for the chance to prove he deserves a spot on the field.

"I'm very happy; I'm blessed to be able to go play at the next level," said Salmond. "I'm looking to go to a D1 (NCAA Division I) college after I play JUCO too."

Salmond didn't get on the field much in high school simply because he got stuck behind a logjam of talent at defensive end. With DI talent like Justus Boone in front of him, it was hard to find playing time. Barnes thinks he can use this opportunity to prove himself.

"J'Quan is just a guy that got himself caught behind a really good player. He has not played a lot for us, but has done a great job in practice and the weight room, but he's quite possibly the guy who was stuck behind three Division I players on the defensive line with Justus and DJ (Davin Jackson) and the guys that were there in front of him. Sometimes the timing is just bad for you, and he's looking for an opportunity to prove that he's a quality football player."

Brotherhood makes the move easier

The one thing that's going to make this cross-country move easier for these five Gamecocks is the fact that they're going together. All five were most excited to get a chance to continue to play football surrounded by their friends.

"We're not going to school by ourselves, we have our brothers," said Boone. "I get to learn to adapt with people that I know well. I looked at these guys as my brothers even before the recruiting process, so it felt meant to be."

Scott added, "I just love it. I get to play with my brothers."

Salmond thinks that having those familiar faces will make the slew of new experiences around the corner a little bit easier to handle.

"It makes it way easier because I've got my friends already there with me, supporting me," said Salmond. "It's going to be a great experience.

While there are a lot of benefits to a big group going to one school, Barnes cautioned his players to not stay too confined to their Sumter teammates.

"I think it's good and bad. I think it's good to have somebody that you know. If they keep it in the right context, it can help them," said Barnes. "If you get up there and all you do is stay within your little group, then it becomes bad, because you've got to experience other people and other teammates and don't rely on just the friendships that you go to college with. That's the beauty of going to college, to create new relationships with people that aren't from the same place you are.

"So hopefully it'll be a comforting fact for them early and then they will branch out, and obviously we wanted to develop relationships with their other teammates, some people that are from other places and build relationships that can help you after you leave college."