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USC picks up commitment from RB McDowell

Phil Kornblut
Sports Contributor
Posted 6/13/20

Running back Caleb McDowell (5-feet-10-inches, 175 pounds) of Leesburg, Ga., announced a commitment to the University of South Carolina on Tuesday.

McDowell previously was committed to North Carolina State, having pledged to it in April. He broke …

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USC picks up commitment from RB McDowell

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Running back Caleb McDowell (5-feet-10-inches, 175 pounds) of Leesburg, Ga., announced a commitment to the University of South Carolina on Tuesday.

McDowell previously was committed to North Carolina State, having pledged to it in April. He broke off that pledge on June 3.

New USC RB coach Des Kitchings came from NCSU and had a previous relationship with McDowell. He was offered by USC on May 19 and the two sides grew closer from there.

"Just building a bond with the coaching staff and a few of the players, and really falling in love with the community and the type of system they run up there," McDowell said when asked why he chose USC. "It's a chance I really couldn't miss out on."

McDowell visited USC for a couple of games last season. Plus, he's close friends with USC safety Jammie Robinson, who also came from Lee County High in Leesburg. The greatest impact on his decision to commit to USC though came from his relationship with Kitchings.

"He had a great influence. Me and Coach Kitchings get along real good. He's my guy," McDowell said. "We hit it off from Day 1. The type of connection we have is rare to find in the recruitment process when you are building connections with the coaches. He's the type of guy who can stay on the phone and just talk for hours, and not even about football. That's rare when you're building a bond with coaches."

As for how USC plans to deploy him, McDowell said his versatility will come into play.

"They plan to use me in multiple ways," McDowell said. "They can use me in the backfield as a running back. They feel I can be a return guy on special teams. They might even move me out to receiver a couple of plays to try to get me in open space."

McDowell only had 35 carries last season, but he said he was right around the 1,000-yard mark. He also scored 14 touchdowns.

"I was such an important key on defense, and we had a couple of senior running backs," McDowell responded when asked about his lack of carries. "And them knowing the type of season that they are planning on me having this year at running back, they really didn't want to put our game plan out there to allow other coaches to scheme against that. It's going to be a breakout season."

McDowell also had offers from Syracuse, Army, Indiana, East Carolina, Georgia State, Purdue, South Alabama, Cincinnati and Colorado. He is rated as a 3-star prospect in the 247Sports Composite and is ranked 71st in the state of Georgia.

McDowell is the sixth new commitment, and the first RB pledge, for USC's 2021 recruiting class, which totals nine due to three carryovers from '20. He said he has not yet determined if he will sign early or if he will graduate early and enroll next January.

Four-star defensive end Kelvin Gilliam (6-3, 250) of Highland Springs, Va., is one of the highest rated prospects on USC's board right now, and USC is one of the highest rated programs on his. Gilliam said USC, Penn State and Oklahoma are the three strongest schools with him at this point, though he's not cut his list to those three. There are many more offers he's still considering.

Last week Gilliam had a Zoom call with several members of the USC staff. He said head coach Will Muschamp wasn't involved as he was told he was on vacation, but he did talk with assistant coaches Kyle Krantz, Mike Peterson and George Wynn.

"South Carolina is a huge priority for me," Gilliam said. "Top schools, all the best stuff. Conversations are like with family. We talked about things, about how they see me. We're in like that development stage. They were just telling me, 'We want you.' It's a big opportunity for me to come there and chase all my dreams. Everything I need and I'm looking for is at South Carolina."

USC has been recruiting Gilliam for the better part of two years, so he knows what a priority he has become for it. "They're pursuing extremely hard, and I would say Penn State, Oklahoma, Florida and Texas are as well," he said. "South Carolina is a family vibe. I've been talking with Coach Krantz since my sophomore year. The things I'm looking for are to get there and play. South Carolina has emphasized that on me greatly. Great academics and get my degree. That's nonnegotiable. This is a 40-year decision, and I'll go back there and be taken care of."

Some of the other offers for Gilliam are Michigan, Michigan State, West Virginia, Georgia Tech, NCSU, Virginia Tech, Duke, Tennessee, Louisiana State, Minnesota, California, UF, Kentucky, Texas, Arkansas and Vanderbilt.

He may take some official visits during the season, or he may go ahead and make his decision in July or August. He has had virtual visits with UF and Minnesota.

Gilliam is ranked No. 7 among weakside defensive ends, and he's the No. 4 prospect in Virginia.

USC offensive line coach Eric Wolford has been at work recruiting 3-star offensive tackle Charles Armstrong (6-5, 270) of Bradenton, Fla.

Armstrong has not yet visited USC, but he wants to do so. He is getting a good education from Wolford about the program and also about his coaching style. Armstrong has liked what he has heard and holds USC in high regard.

"I get text messages from the O-Line coach and weekly I talk to him on the phone," Armstrong said. "Recruiting has been going good so far. They will probably be in my top 10 when I make the list.

"He likes how I move and that I have good height and good length. I can bend and explode off the ball and drive my defender and finish my block."

Armstrong said he also gets text messages from Muschamp. He feels USC is seriously interested and, in turn, he is highly interested.

"Right now they are probably recruiting me the most out of the rest," Armstrong said. "One of my favorites school I'll be looking into. I'll also look at UCF, Pitt(sburgh), Arizona State, Indiana, Iowa State, USF (South Florida). Probably that's it's for right now."

Armstrong also has offers from Arizona State, Minnesota, UCF, USF, Utah, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Indiana, Boston College, Cincinnati and Coastal Carolina. He has visited Florida State, UF and UCF.

USC continues to hold a place of prominence with3-star linebacker Jabril McNeill of Raleigh, N.C. He named his top 11 schools last week, and this summer he'll cut that list down to five. From there he'll take more visits and then make his decision.

Joining USC in the 11 are NCSU, VT, Washington, Oklahoma State, Oregon, UK, Michigan State, Louisville, West Virginia and Oklahoma.

McNeill visited USC for a junior day in January and since then it has been a major factor with him.

"I just really like the environment, I love the coaches and the people," McNeill said. "I was there for a junior day and I just loved it, the brand new facilities they've got. When I was talking to the weight training coach about how they help you get stronger, faster and better, I just liked it all."

USC's staff certainly has let McNeill how much it wants him. He said he hears from Muschamp every day, and he's also talking with new LB coach Rod Wilson, new assistant Kitchings and defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson. Wilson, of course, is new to the scene, so he is making up for lost time.

McNeill said all the schools are working him hard, but USC and Oregon are pushing particularly hard. And then there's hometown NCSU, where his brother plays.

USC is in the final six with cornerback Khyree Jackson of East Mississippi Junior College, and he's set July 11 for his announcement. His other schools are Oregon, UF, Oklahoma, Alabama and UK.

USC is in the final four with DE George Wilson of Virginia Beach, Va. The others are North Carolina, Penn State and Arizona State.

USC is in the top five with athlete Myzel Williams of Deltona, Fla. The others are Mississippi State, Cal, NCSU and Louisville.

USC is in the top 10 with tight end Michael Trigg of Lake Wells, Fla. The others are Michigan State, Southern California, Auburn, UNC, LSU, UK, PSU, Ohio State and Illinois.

USC offered '22 WR Taylor Groves (6-2, 185) of Nashville, Tenn. He has a 4-star rating and also reports offers from Arkansas, UK, Mississippi, Mississippi State and Tennessee among others.

CLEMSON

Clemson OL coach Robbie Caldwell is working a small number of highly rated prospects for his final spots in the '21 class. Clemson has a pair of OLs already in the class, one a center and one a tackle. Caldwell could add a couple of more to the list at guard and OT.

One who fits both spots is Dietrick Pennington (6-5, 326) of Memphis, Tenn. He plays OT, but in the 247Sports Composite he's rated as a 4-star OG, No. 12 in the country and No. 4 in Tennessee.

Pennington recently cut his list to a final five of Clemson, LSU, FSU, Auburn and UGA.

He camped last summer in front of Caldwell and head coach Dabo Swinney and picked up his offer from them last June. He was back for a game in September and for a junior day in January. Those experiences, and his conversations with Caldwell, have him feeling good about Clemson.

"From my recent visits to Clemson, and talking to the coaching staff, I can see myself growing spiritually and as a man there," Pennington said. "I'm being recruited as a tackle. We haven't talked about it much, but in general he (Caldwell) likes my aggression and footwork. He also likes the way that I could bend, that I was a natural athlete, and the way that I could catch on to different things quickly."

Pennington has his focus on five now and he doesn't plan to make a decision until after his season. That gives him more time to do his homework.

"Planning on getting down to the schools I haven't been to first, get as much information as I can and from there I'll narrow it down," Pennington said.

Some of the other offers Pennington considered were from USC, Mississippi State, Memphis, Tennessee and Arkansas.

Clemson opened June with a plethora of offers to '22 prospects. They are DE Mykel Williams of Columbus, Ga., defensive back Domani Jackson of Santa Ana, Calif., DB Nikai Martinez of Apopka, Fla., ATH Dasan McCullough of Olathe, Kan., DT Walter Nolen of IMG Academy in Florida, OL Addison Nichols of Norcross, Ga., ATH Malaki Starks of Jefferson, Ga., OL Collin Sadler of Greenville High School, LB Shawn Murphy of Manassas, Va., DT Travis Shaw of Greensboro, N.C., OL Blake Miller of Strongsville, Ohio, LB Jalon Walker of Salisbury, N.C., safety Jeadyn Lukus of Mauldin High, ATH Daylen Everette of Norfolk, Va., CB Denver Harris of Houston, DE Kenyatta Jackson of Miami, ATH TJ Dudley of Montgomery, Ala., TE Jake Johnson of Watkinsville, Ga., SAF Alfonzo Allen of Hallandale, Fla., OL Julian Armella (6-6, 300) of Miami SAF Zion Branch of Las Vegas, and ATH CJ Hicks of Dayton, Ohio, who is currently committed to Ohio State.

OTHERS

USC DT target Isaiah Coe of Iowa Western JC committed to Oklahoma.

USC and Clemson DB target Ryan Barnes of Gaithersburg, Md., committed to Notre Dame.

CB Omarion Cooper of Lehigh Acres, Fla., who had USC in his final six, committed to FSU.

. USC WR target Breon Pass of Reidsville, N.C., has decided to concentrate on basketball, not football, in his college career. Muschamp recruited Pass hard, and he was favoring USC in football, but he said he had to go with his passion, which is basketball.

Former USC SAF commitment Demarko Williams of Atlanta said he committed to a school last week, but he's not announced the decision. USC was in his final five but wasn't the choice. The others in the top five were Oregon, NCSU, Pitt and Ole Miss.

DE Keanu Koht of Vero Beach, Fla., who was offered by Clemson soon after DE Korey Foreman decommitted, does not have Clemson in his top four of Auburn, UF, LSU and Oregon.

Clemson and USC DE target Dallas Turner of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., was offered by ND.