One week ago, 88 high school football players from the class of 2019 attended Coastal Carolina’s Junior Day.
Like those of most college programs, the event served as one of the highlights of the recruiting calendar. And just like last year, more than 70 percent of the kids who attended were from the state of South Carolina.
It was Coastal’s next opportunity to impress not only those players, but their parents and coaches who of late have recognized faults – some real, some imagined – with the school’s connection to South Carolina’s talent pool.
On Wednesday, when CCU expects to wrap up its scholarship class with the start of the late signing period, there is expected to be very little Palmetto State representation on the list. Of the handful of scholarship players expected to join December’s early signees and a mid-year transfer, only two in-state players are likely to be among the group. That’s exactly one more than Coastal is expected to sign from England.
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Regardless of reasoning, the totality hasn’t been a good look for those inside the state.
A number of high school coaches have openly questioned Coastal’s recruiting methods. A high-profile former player’s December Twitter post did little to help perception. It doesn’t matter that most of the preferred walk-on spots will go to in-state players. And it doesn’t matter that Coastal’s move to the Football Bowl Subdivision is still midway through the process and the Chanticleers aren’t the South Carolina powerhouse from the Championship Subdivision ranks anymore.
“Before, it was much harder to identify kids that we liked who we felt could help us win a national championship that we could actually be involved in,” said Cory Bailey, CCU’s recruiting coordinator. “It was harder to find kids who fit what we thought we needed. But when we did, it was much easier to get them. Now, it’s much easier to find kids we like who can help us win, but it’s much harder to get them because we’re not the top dog anymore.”
Bailey is the first to say that Coastal had issues with part of this cycle. It was late to the party on some kids while simultaneously watching as others it had hoped to land developed into Power Five prospects.
Either way, the ebbs and flows of recruiting have at least temporarily floated farther and farther away from Horry County’s university.
BREAKDOWN IN COMMUNICATION?
In many ways, Horry County is the microcosm of the recruiting issues for Coastal Carolina, and not simply because this is CCU’s backyard.
Certain high schools probably didn’t have the type of talent worthy of an offer or even significant interest for the Class of 2018. Conway wasn’t one of them. At least four Tigers who led their team to a 2017 region title signed or will sign with an FBS school.
One of them received an offer from Coastal Carolina.
“It seems odd when a lot of schools come in to recruit our kids and ask why Coastal hasn’t offered certain kids,” interim Conway coach Carlton Terry said. “It happened a few times this year because of the class we had. We had a large class of seniors, recruitable guys. They’d ask why Coastal hadn’t offered. I really have no answer for them. I feel like our kids are good enough to play on the next level. They should have an opportunity to play at Coastal.”
Terry said that it’s possible the Coastal staff’s relationship with now former coach Chuck Jordan and the ill-timed transition to Terry could have hurt the connection between Conway High and CCU. Even if that’s the case, this isn’t the first time local coaches have vented about this exact topic.
Over the last several years, the number of local players who signed with similarly sized programs dwarfs those committing to Coastal.
One local player accepted a scholarship to CCU each year for the 2015, 2016 and 2017 signing classes. There were none in 2014, which covered Bailey’s first full year as the Chants’ recruiting coordinator. In the four signing blocks prior to his arrival (2010-2013), not a single Horry County player was offered. The only local kids who ended up at CCU were either preferred walk-ons or players who transferred there after originally enrolling somewhere else. The 2012 signing class did not include a single player from South Carolina.
“To me, with Coastal, it goes back and forth a little bit,” Myrtle Beach coach Mickey Wilson said. “There seems to be times when they [recruit locally] and times when it seems to be not a lot. It’s kind of been up and down. Look at two years ago and [Myrtle Beach quarterback] Luke [Doty]. He goes to their camp and they offer him as an eighth-grader. That’s a positive to me. But there have been years when we haven’t seen much and haven’t heard much.”
Other coaches around the state have been even more vocal – an assumed byproduct of the ease of social media. After all, it was on Twitter that arguably the loudest statement came on Dec. 20. It was then that former Coastal and current Denver Broncos running back De’Angelo Henderson took to the forum to air his own concerns.
“Does Coastal not recruit in South Carolina anymore? How do you forget about home when there’s so much talent there. 0 kids from SC signed with ccu (sic) today,” Henderson tweeted.
Nine days later, the Twitter account used to crow about the Chants’ football recruiting posted a graphic stating 45 returning players on the 2018 team were from the Carolinas.
A slightly skewed statistic given some are from North Carolina and many of the ones from South Carolina are walk-ons who rarely, if ever, see playing time?
What was lost in translation – between the white noise of the tweets and the issues Horry County coaches have had at times over the years – was that even if Coastal did drop the ball here and there by incorrectly evaluating a player, it simply wasn’t going to win many of its recruiting battles. In addition to head coach Joe Moglia’s health-related leave of absence, Coastal’s FBS infancy included a 3-9 record last fall. Three of its home games were blowout losses.
Not exactly a boon for recruiting weekends.
“It’s related to winning, for sure,” Bailey said. “That’s what people are using against us in recruiting right now. App State beats us up over that.”
Appalachian State in Boone, N.C., is expected to end up with more South Carolina players in this class than Coastal. So is fellow Sun Belt Conference member Georgia State. Both schools are closer to many high schools in South Carolina than CCU is.
More importantly, both of those teams won bowl games in December.
BEHIND THE NUMBERS
Bailey isn’t naive.
Among the many topics of conversation during Coastal’s transition to the FBS has been attendance. The Chanticleers must meet specific NCAA regulations to fulfill the move. Tyler Gore, a North Myrtle Beach standout who signed with Georgia State in December, surely wouldn’t have hurt in that regard.
“We’re really disappointed that we didn’t get Tyler Gore because of that exact reason,” Bailey said. “If you bring that kid in on scholarship, he’s probably bringing 10-15 people with him to a home game every weekend. … We would have taken his commitment in a heartbeat.”
Gore was a misfire as far as Coastal was concerned. CCU offered him after he had verbally committed to Georgia State, whose coaching staff includes five former South Carolina college or high school coaches.
More often than not, however, it wasn’t like the Chants weren’t trying to keep more of the top-level talent from crossing the borders.
The Coastal coaching staff’s big board, so to speak, included 54 South Carolina players (five from Horry County) who were projected as FBS prospects, according to Bailey. Of those 54, Coastal offered 16 a scholarship and one a preferred walk-on spot. Of the 37 it did not offer, 23 were Power Five players whom CCU likely had no shot to land; seven ended up at other mid- to low-level FBS programs outside the Sun Belt Conference; six committed to Sun Belt teams; one dropped down to an FCS school.
Included in the 17 Coastal did offer, at least four signed/committed with SEC schools (Conway’s Jaylen Moody was offered by CCU but narrowed his top three to Ole Miss, Arkansas and Alabama earlier this week); three are ACC bound; and one is going to the Big Ten.
Those are the breaks for the new kid on the FBS block, as evidenced by the caseof Channing Tindall, the Spring Valley star who verbally committed to Georgia in December. Coastal was reportedly among the first to offer him three years back. But even after Tindall blew up on the recruiting trail, Coastal would not back off its original offer. The same goes for Doty, whose tally now includes South Carolina, Louisville and North Carolina State after picking up that offer from Coastal as a middle schooler.
Similarly, CCU had to stick to its guns with the other aspect of recruiting in-state, as well. Offering kids whom the coaching staff didn’t think would eventually qualify wasn’t an option.
“A lot of times, kids are offered by out-of-state schools when they have no chance of making it academically,” Bailey said. “A lot of schools offer to offer. We really do recruit the opposite of that. We do a lot of homework. We’re late on offering some kids, but the difference is, when we offer somebody, and they commit to us, we take their commitment. For an out-of-state school to offer a kid from South Carolina [and it doesn’t work out], they just don’t go to that high school anymore and it’s no big deal for them. Whereas if we do something like that, it’s a big deal.”
The short answer to the situation as a whole is that there is no short answer.
Both Coastal coaching staffs since the program was founded have had their moments of missing out on locals. CCU has struggled to find a healthy medium during the FBS transition. And competition for the proper talent is as tough as it’s ever been.
For what it’s worth, Terry said that his relationship with Coastal, and specifically assistant coach Patrick Covington, has improved immensely since November. Not long after that, Coastal did offer Moody, one of those talented Tiger seniors.
It was too little, too late, however, and it effectively ended Horry County’s three-year streak of at least one local scholarship player signing with Coastal.
“We have players who are good enough to play,” Terry said. “They may not choose to go to Coastal, but at least Coastal would be an opportunity. You have a kid who doesn’t want to go far from home who has the opportunity to play at Coastal and has the academic achievements to compete there. It just seems like some of those kids are being overlooked right now.”