A peek into recruiting with South Carolina's Jeffery

March, 9, 2009
3/09/09
1:09
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Ever wondered what the night before national signing day is like for a prospect being coveted from the East Coast to the West Coast?

Alshon Jeffery knows all too well.

 
  Tom Hauck for ESPN.com
  South Carolina recruit Alshon Jeffery's last few hours before signing day were intense.
"You're just glad when it's all over," said Jeffery, who signed with South Carolina in February after a long, winding recruiting battle that also included Southern California and Tennessee.

Jeffery, a 6-3, 220-pound receiver, was one of the Gamecocks' most prized recruits in a class that was ranked 12th nationally by Scouts Inc. He was ranked by Scouts Inc. as the No. 12 receiver prospect in the country.

Getting him was important on several different fronts for the Gamecocks. For one, he's the kind of playmaker on offense they desperately need. And two, he's from right down the road in St. Matthews, S.C. South Carolina kept most of the best players from the state at home this year, and landing Jeffery was a real coup.

He'd been committed to Southern California since last June, and the Trojans remained in it right up until the very end along with Tennessee.

And the end got a little crazy, to say the least.

Everybody knew that Jeffery had reopened his recruitment. Alabama tried to get in, and so did Florida. But he wasn't giving much away publicly. He didn't make his announcement until signing day in the Calhoun County High School gym.

The night before, he had a basketball game. His team just recently won its fourth straight state championship, and Jeffery scored 25 points in the title game.

On the eve of signing day, his football coach, Walter Wilson, sensed that Jeffery needed to get away from everything and took him to a hotel in nearby Orangeburg, S.C., to stay the night following his basketball game. Also there was one of Jeffery's high school teammates, Eric Mack, who will be one of the most highly recruited offensive linemen in the country next year.

"I knew I was going to South Carolina, and they knew," Jeffery said. "But I wasn't ready to say it until the next day."

There was obvious pressure for Jeffery to stay in state, but he said it never rose to the level of making him uncomfortable.

"It's just what I wanted to do, stay at home and help the home school," he said. "I started looking at it from all different angles and not just football."

There wasn't much sleep that night in the hotel. Jeffery said his last conversation with South Carolina assistant Shane Beamer, who was recruiting him for the Gamecocks, was around 12:45 a.m. But it was just getting started then.

He was still talking to coaches from Southern California and Tennessee until nearly 3 a.m.

"Alshon knew what he wanted," Wilson said. "He'd turned down a chance to take a visit to Florida late in the process, so I knew that South Carolina was where his heart was. But you sit there and listen to those coaches all work their angles, and you're like, 'I wouldn't want to be in this kid's shoes.'"

Wilson heard it all, too.

As Southern California's Pete Carroll and Tennessee's Lane Kiffin, along with their assistants, did their best to make a final pitch to Jeffery in the wee hours of that morning, Jeffery made sure their conversations were on speaker phone. Mack was sitting there listening, too.

"It's a whole different level, and these guys don't give up easily," Wilson said. "I don't blame them. It's what they do. It's how they put bread on their table."

Because he'd been committed to Southern California for so long, Jeffery said he did inform Carroll that he planned to sign with South Carolina. The Trojans had tried to put the squeeze on Jeffery earlier in the recruiting process and told him that they were going to pull his offer unless he agreed not to take visits anywhere else.

To make a long story short, Jeffery took his visits to South Carolina and Tennessee, and the Trojans never quit recruiting him.

"He tried his best to talk me out of it, but my mind was made up," said Jeffery, who still refers to Carroll as "Pete."

Kiffin was equally dogged. But when it was obvious that Jeffery wasn't going to Tennessee, Kiffin took off the gloves.

According to Jeffrey and Wilson, Kiffin told Jeffery that if he chose the Gamecocks, he would end up pumping gas for the rest of his life like all the other players from that state who had gone to South Carolina.

Jeffery was doing his best to stay awake at that point, but that comment from Kiffin woke him up. He clearly hasn't forgotten it, either.

"He said it, but it's not worth talking about," Jeffery said.

Wilson was a little more diplomatic. He wrote it off as Kiffin pulling out all of the stops and simply not wanting to concede defeat. Wilson acknowledged that's about as negative as it got that morning.

"It was his last resort. That's all it was," said Wilson, who also attended high school in South Carolina. "When you get pushed against the wall and your back is there, you're going to come out with something. You should have heard coach Carroll. He was wide awake at 3 o'clock in the morning. Remember, he was on West Coast time and fighting to get Alshon to the very end.

"But the war was over at that point."

As things heated up that morning, Wilson shot a quick glance toward Mack, who also heard everything. It was as if to say, "Get ready big boy. This is going to be you next year."

And sure enough, Tennessee assistant coach David Reaves quickly made it known that the Vols weren't going to miss out on Mack next year.

"When you're desperate, you say things you probably don't mean, sort of like a husband and wife when they get mad at each other," Wilson said. "These coaches put so much effort into recruiting these kids. They take it hard when they lose one.

"I wasn't offended, because I know how the game works. That's just how competitive it is. You don't think coach [Nick] Saban isn't competitive? But one of the things I do know about South Carolina is that they take care of their own."

Finally, the cell phones stopped ringing that morning. Jeffery was able to steal a few hours of sleep, and South Carolina had his signed scholarship papers by 7:30 a.m.

He didn't announce that he was signing with the Gamecocks until later that morning at his school's signing ceremony.

"It was a relief. The stress gets to you a little bit," Jeffery said. "But the whole experience was a good one. You learn a lot about yourself, and you learn a lot about people."

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