A.J. Cann said he saw no need to continue the recruiting process any further. He had already had his mind made up for a while where he wanted to play his college ball – South Carolina. He is ranked as the #4 center in the country by Scout.com and is a consensus top player by all the recruiting services. The Gamecocks now have seven commitments for 2010, with three of them having committed in the last seven days.
Cann’s commitment is a significant head-to-head win against teams with whom USC must compete and beat in the recruiting battles if they want to be able to compete and beat the same teams on the field – especially Cann’s other three finalists - North Carolina, Clemson, and Tennessee. The all-star center had garnered 34 scholarship offers at the time he shut the recruiting process down, including offers from numerous SEC and ACC schools, i.e., Alabama, Auburn, Kentucky, Florida State, NC State, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech.
Every recruiting class has players that act as leaders in helping the coaching staff recruit the best athletes they can to South Carolina. In 2007 when USC put together its highest ranked class to that point, Spring Valley offensive lineman Quintin Richardson took the point. In last year’s class, which also was very highly rated, Columbia High teammates Chris Payne and Damario Jeffery became ambassadors for the Gamecocks, successfully encouraging others to join them in Columbia. As this class takes on a face, it wouldn’t surprise Bamberg-Ehrhardt head coach Kevin Crosby if Cann filled that role for the 2010 USC class.
Gamecock fans would naturally look at a vocal leader like quarterback commitment Connor Shaw and expect him to help lead in peer recruiting. The quiet Cann would not be the one standing in a crowd one would quickly pick out to fill such a leadership role, but his coach said to look out for this quiet one. “He doesn’t do a lot of talking, he does a lot by showing, by doing – 'Get on board, follow me, this is what is going to make us better.'" Crosby talked about when his team’s 2008 season ended short of their team goal of a state championship, Cann “led players to work out in the weight room the very next day” in preparation for the 2009 season.
When asked if Cann is the type player who can bring other high-ranking players into the USC fold, Crosby was emphatically positive in his response. “Yes, he’s that type of kid,” he said. “He’s a leader for us. We know that when things go wrong, we know he’s going to be the kid that steps up and makes things right. Our other kids look up to him.” Crosby continued, “Me coaching the offensive line this year, I don’t have to worry about offensive linemen going out and doing drugs. He takes those offensive linemen and they go through drills without me even being there. When he gets going, he gets everybody around him going. He just brings that to the kids around him – 'I’m a leader, watch what I do, and follow what I do.'”
Cann talked about helping out South Carolina recruiting at his commitment press conference: “I'm going to try to get that done, to help out with the recruiting process, try to get a couple of guys to come to Carolina with me.” He said. “I have a pretty good relationship already with some of the players that Carolina is looking at, so I'm going to talk to them.”
Referencing the two very highly ranked defensive players that have come out of Bamberg-Ehrhardt program recently, the coach said, “To me, AJ is a Daquan Bowers or Ricky Sapp on the offensive side of the football. You don’t often see offensive guys as explosive as he is.”
The coach emphasized that Cann takes his leadership skills out to the community as well. Grateful for the support that the community gives the football team on Friday nights each fall, Crosby said that Cann goes out and “gets a group up” to voluntarily provide community service. He referenced a recent project at the Bamberg library that Cann led as an example. Cann also works as a peer tutor at the school. "He's always looking out for his teammates, telling them how to act because we're not just here to win for Bamberg-Ehrhardt High School; we're here to win for the Bamberg-Ehrhardt community. All those kids in the weight room down there, working out during their summer vacation, they're there because of A.J."
The high school coaches fill a major role in the lives of their football players, including the recruiting process. “You give them your input on what you think is best for them, but they have the final say-so in what happens.” Crosby said. He joked about Bamberg-Ehrhardt being perceived as a Clemson lock. “Everybody thinks we’re a feeder program for Clemson because of the two players we’ve got up there (Bowers and Sapp), but we leave that decision up to the kids. We support their decision 100% regardless of where it is.”
Crosby referenced the current USC staff and their approach to recruiting as to why the Gamecocks have made inroads at his school and others. “I think it is more high school friendly right now at South Carolina,” Crosby said. “They did a good job of coming down and recruiting our guys early. The new coaches came in – they didn’t know us, we didn’t know them. We allowed them to recruit. Every school has the same opportunity; we just opened the door.”
One of the clear trends developing as South Carolina continues to be successful on the recruiting trail this year is the role of coaches Shane Beamer and Eric Wolford. Beamer was already at USC, but became the recruiting coordinator after David Reaves left for Tennessee.
Cann’s father, Isaiah Cann, referenced the two coaches when talking about his son’s decision to play for the Gamecocks. “Beamer developed a good relationship with him,” he said. “Once Wolford came in, I feel my son is going to get the same kind of treatment here that he did at home, from his family and his coaches here. You can get that some places, but you can’t get it everywhere, and when you get it this close to home, you’ve got to take advantage of it.”
Cann the player also gave a lot of credit to the two coaches: “From the point that they've been on me, since I got started with the recruiting, they just loved me so much,” Cann said. “It mainly came down to my relationship with the coaches, especially coach ‘Wolf’ and coach Shane Beamer.”
Crosby has also been impressed with both Beamer and Wolford. He shared his thoughts about USC’s new offensive line coach, who will become Cann’s position coach once he gets on campus next year. “Wolford is a great guy,” he said. “I spent time with him, I worked with him at offensive line camp about two weeks ago, and I’ve seen a great guy at work. He’s a great offensive line coach. Those guys playing for him are going to be blessed to have a great coach.”
Cann’s father worked hard to be impartial during the recruiting process and allow his son to make the best decision for him, but his joy in seeing AJ choose to wear the garnet and black was hard to miss. I asked him after the press conference, now that it was all over, whether he could openly say he was a Gamecock fan. The whole family burst into knowing laughter, as he answered, “Most definitely I am.” He acknowledged being a happy daddy that his son has become a Gamecock. His stepmother, Eartha Ford, also admitted that “I was a Carolina fan the whole time, but I didn’t want to let him know, but that’s what I wanted. This is wonderful.”
Both parents talked about being taken aback by all the attention the recruitment of a major recruit like their son receives. “It (the attention) was overwhelming,” Cann said. He said the recruiting process got “over the top” the first week after AJ received an offer from Carolina. The young Cann's mother agreed, saying, “It was overwhelming. It was crazy. I know my mailman’s going to be happy. He was receiving 25-30 letters a day. And the phone calls non-stop until ten o’clock each night…”
Cann was asked about playing his former high school teammate Daquan Bowers, who will line up for Clemson’s defense opposite Cann when the two teams have their annual grudge matches in the future. He responded with the same balance of tough-nosed intensity and humor that makes him popular with his teammates, stating it would be some “tough love.”
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