South Carolina football: Mario Anderson on USC commitment

Newberry College running back Mario Anderson

Newberry College running back Mario Anderson

The State

Mario Anderson Jr. has rarely been in demand.

He was committed to Charleston Southern after starring at Stratford High, but he walked away from that first pledge amid a coaching change. He landed at Newberry College, where he starred the last three seasons — with the promise of just $500 in scholarship money coming out of high school.

Now? He’s heading to the University of South Carolina as one of the more intriguing players in the Gamecocks’ busy run of acquisitions.

“I know that it’s a small (number) of people that get this opportunity,” Anderson told The State on Monday. “And I’m one of the lucky few people to get this opportunity.”

Anderson committed to South Carolina on Sunday night, just two days after he landed an offer from head coach Shane Beamer. He was one of three transfer portal additions for USC that were made public Sunday.

He was in Columbia on an unofficial visit, checked out practice and chatted with running backs coach Montario Hardesty. As the day wrapped, Beamer had Anderson pop into his office. They talked about his potential fit. Anderson left the room with a scholarship offer.

He’ll technically have two years of eligibility to use in Columbia. If he brings the form he flashed at Newberry this past year, he may only need one of those seasons.

Anderson ran for 1,560 yards and 19 touchdowns on 211 carries in 2022, earning a finalist nod for the Harlon Hill Trophy, Division II college football’s version of the Heisman Trophy. He recorded more than 100 yards in nine of 10 games this year.

In back-to-back contests against Catawba and Lenoir Rhyne, Anderson put up 489 combined yards on the ground.

“I already knew coming from a smaller DII school, the facilities were going to be immaculate. It was going to be a big jump,” he said of what he saw on his unofficial visit to South Carolina. “But seeing how the team was, how the coaches interact with the players, how they really went to detail with the players about what they want, how they want it. It was it was a really good (feel for) how everything went.”

Anderson’s commitment is a welcome one around Columbia. The Gamecocks’ running back room has grown increasingly thin by the week.

Starter MarShawn Lloyd unexpectedly entered the tranfer portal two weeks ago. Tight end Jaheim Bell — who finished second on the team with 73 carries this year — has since landed at Florida State. Christian Beal-Smith and walk-on Dante Miller will exhaust their eligibility at the end of this year.

That leaves South Carolina with Juju McDowell, Rashad Amos and Georgia transfer Lovasea Carroll as the other scholarship tailbacks heading into bowl season. Four-star runner Dontavius Braswell will sign Wednesday and join the squad sooner than later, too.

Still, Anderson — whose 5-foot-9, 210-pound frame is almost identical to Lloyd’s — gives the Gamecocks a back with 513 carries and 3,301 yards in his college career.

“It’s really up to me, how I prepare mentally, physically, and just on all aspects of the game, to prepare for my moment for when my time comes,” Anderson said. “Being up there and getting my foot in the door and getting an offer and committing, that’s a first step.”

The holidays generally call for a slower schedule. Anderson, though, is full-speed ahead.

He’s lifting and training with his personal coaches back home in Summerville during the break. An official visit to South Carolina with a slew of family members should come in early January.

Shortly thereafter, he’ll enroll at USC and join the team for winter workouts and, eventually, spring practices.

Not bad for a virtual ex-walk-on.

“Everything (with the transfer portal) was a blessing,” Anderson said. “It didn’t matter if only one coach (reached out). Just being in a very small percentage of athletes to be able to play the game that I love at a high level is a blessing in itself.”

Ben Portnoy is The State’s South Carolina Gamecocks football beat writer. He’s a five-time Associated Press Sports Editors award honoree and has earned recognition from the Mississippi Press Association and the National Sports Media Association. Portnoy previously covered Mississippi State for the Columbus Commercial Dispatch and Indiana football for the Journal Gazette in Ft. Wayne, Indiana.

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