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Skilled Portal Additions for the Gamecocks

portal additions Gamecocks

The South Carolina transfer portal class for the 2024 cycle currently has 16 players. The class is ranked 14th nationally by 247Sports and fourth nationally by On3. Of the 16 players, some are definite depth pieces. However, adding depth cannot be downplayed, as injuries have riddled the Gamecocks’ roster in recent years. Most notably, last season, twelve offensive linemen were injured at one point or another throughout the season. More than half of those players were out for more than three-quarters of the season.  Still, some groups, like wide receivers, were decimated by portal departures in terms of quantity. Departures made room for some significant portal additions for the Gamecocks.

Shane Beamer and his staff have been working diligently to plug holes in this roster and add more talent. The most glaring additions were in the running back room, where the Gamecocks took three quality players. Skill positions garner the most attention, but Beamer and Company also added to the trenches in this class. Depth on the offensive and defensive lines will go a long way towards producing more wins in 2024. 

Running Back Overhaul

The running back room in Columbia was almost empty just a month ago. Veteran JuJu McDowell, who ended 2023 with a broken collarbone, and rising sophomore DJay Braswell were the only scholarship backs on the team. Since then, the Gamecocks added Jawarn Howell (SC State), Oscar Adaway III (North Texas), and Raheim “Rocket” Sanders (Arkansas) via the portal. Sanders projects as the starter in 2024. Although he spent most of 2023 injured, he was a first-team All-SEC player in 2022 and ran for over 1400 yards. Sanders is a huge back, built for SEC play. He is the best running back talent in Columbia since Mike Davis in 2014. Beamer recently fired running backs coach Montario Hardesty. The leader in the clubhouse to fill the opening is Arkansas running backs coach and South Carolina native Jimmy Smith. Smith would be reuniting with Sanders and three former Arkansas assistants who are on the Gamecocks’ staff, including offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains.

Adaway essentially replaces Mario Anderson Jr., who started over half of 2023 for Carolina. He is an experienced player who possesses the ability to catch out of the backfield and understands pass protection. Adaway should contribute quickly when he puts on the garnet and black. The third, less-heralded Howell is the most exciting of the three portal backs for the long term in Columbia. Howell will be a sophomore in 2024, so he has plenty of eligibility remaining. At 6’1” and 215 pounds, Howell already has the size to be an every-down back in the SEC. He will undoubtedly get stronger and projects to contribute for several seasons. This underrated Gamecock portal addition ran for 9.5 yards per carry as a true freshman over seven games of action. 

On the Outside

After five receivers hit the portal, the starting tight end ran out of eligibility, and a record-setting season sent Xavier Legette to the NFL Draft, the Gamecocks were a little short on pass catchers. The receiver room is full of promising players, most of whom will be sophomores in 2024. However, the production coming in dwarfs the numbers that departed via the portal. The departing five receivers account for 91 career catches, 1216 yards, and nine touchdowns. The three portal additions for the Gamecocks combine for 230 catches, 3334 yards, and 51 touchdowns. South Carolina native Ahmari Huggins-Bruce is returning to his home state from Louisville and provides the speed needed to replace Ahamrean Brown (NFL Draft) in the slot. 

The Coastal Carolina transfer, Jared Brown, is a Swiss Army knife type of player. While he does not have the build of former Gamecock Deebo Samuel, Coastal used him in a similar role. Brown has big play ability whenever he touches the ball. Finally, Gage Larvadain (Miami of Ohio) is at his third school after beginning at Southeastern Louisiana. Despite significant issues at quarterback, he was one of the top receivers in the MAC in 2023. Miami (Ohio) was a run-first team (with former Gamecock Rashad Amos), but Larvadain continued to make plays downfield. All three receivers are on the smaller side, with Brown being the biggest at 6’, 175 pounds. However, speed cannot be taught, and the Gamecocks got faster with these three. 

In and Out… And Back in Again

In one of the more strange recruiting stories of the portal, the Gamecocks also added tight end Brady Hunt (Ball State). After Hunt committed to South Carolina on December 4th, many believed his story was over. However, the 6’6”, 250-pounder found out later that his former position coach at Ball State had been hired by Mike Elko in College Station. It was then believed that Hunt intended to play for the Aggies in 2024. On Sunday, Hunt posted on X that he was “Home” in Columbia. Beamer replied with a gif confirming that Hunt was indeed back as a part of the Gamecocks’ class. Hunt is a large tight end who is built to block. He also has pass-catching ability and should see the field often in 2024, along with natural receiving tight ends Josh Simon and freshman Michael Smith. 

What’s Left To Do?

The skill additions for the Gamecocks in the portal will go a long way toward producing a potent offense in 2024. The running back room is set. Now all they need is a coach to develop them. One more receiver would really help Justin Stepp and LaNorris Sellers in the passing game. Receivers will likely produce by committee in 2024. The more, the merrier in that strategy. Finally, the Gamecocks desperately need a quarterback behind Sellers. With former starter/backup Luke Doty working at receiver, only a true freshman sits in the room with Sellers. If there were an injury to number 16, the Gamecocks’ season would be over at that moment. A quality backup has eluded the staff this cycle, but the spring portal opening may be the opportunity they need. 

 

portal additions Gamecocks
Photo courtesy: Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports

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