South Carolina football’s late-season surge has energized its fan base and its incoming recruiting class.
Camden High defensive lineman Xzavier McLeod has been impressed by what he’s seen from the Gamecocks over the past two weeks. South Carolina defeated then No. 5 Tennessee and then followed that up by beating rival and No. 8 Clemson for the program’s first win over its rival since 2013.
South Carolina moved into The Associated Press Top 25 and USA Today coaches poll at No. 20 — and were No. 19 in the latest College Football Playoff Rankings.
McLeod discussed the Gamecocks’ hot streak and the strength of his college commitment Wednesday while being recognized at Camden High for his selection in the annual Under Armour All-American Game.
“The last two weeks when they beat Tennessee and Clemson, that is a bigger pedestal for them,” McLeod said Wednesday. “And me picking that school (USC), that made me even more confident going there. Because next year, we can turn that program around even more.”
The biggest things that stood out to the 6-foot-4, 300-pound McLeod were the effort the Gamecocks gave and their ability to answer every time they were challenged.
“Tennessee, every time Tennessee scored, they answered back and the defense looked great,” McLeod said. “Same thing with Clemson, and they were able to do that in front of Clemson’s crowd.”
McLeod, ranked the No. 3 overall recruit in South Carolina by 247Sports Composite, is the second highest-ranked in-state prospect committed to USC behind Dorman offensive lineman Markee Anderson.
He verbally committed to South Carolina in August but has since taken visits to Miami and Florida. A few weeks ago, McLeod posted pictures of his Miami visit on his Instagram page. It was enough to have fans on social media and message boards wondering about the strength of his commitment to South Carolina.
On Wednesday, he showed up for his Under Armour All-American Game jersey presentation wearing a Florida hoodie before changing to a Camden polo.
McLeod remains firmly committed to the Gamecocks, he said.
“I got some gear so I’m just still wearing it,” McLeod said. “There is no reason to get worried. I like the gear so I am going to wear it.”
McLeod is one of five USC commits chosen for the Under Armour game. Others include Markee Anderson, Trevon Baugh, Desmond Umeozulu and Kelton Henderson. He is the first Camden player picked for the national all-star game and joins recent Midlands players in the game such as Dutch Fork’s Antonio Williams, Hammond’s Jordan Burch, Airport’s Paxton Brooks and Chapin’s Hank Manos.
The game will be played Jan. 3 at Camping World Stadium in Orlando. If the Gamecocks are selected for the Citrus Bowl, they will play in the same stadium the day before.
“I have been blessed. Not many people could say they could do this, so it is a big achievement,” McLeod said. “… I’m looking forward to it. It is a chance to showcase my talents before I go off to college.”
McLeod finished his senior season with 53 tackles, 6.5 sacks, 19 tackles for loss and 15 quarterback pressures. He also was picked for the Shrine Bowl all-star game but won’t be playing.
McLeod is one of seven finalists for South Carolina’s Mr. Football honor, which will be handed out Dec. 10 at halftime of the Touchstone Energy Bowl in Myrtle Beach.
Camden coach Brian Rimpf said McLeod has the size to step on USC’s campus and play next week, but he’ll have a lot to learn, especially going up against tougher competition on a daily basis in practice and in games.
“He has been a special player all four years he has been here,” Rimpf said. “He is one of three guys in my coaching career that played varsity as a freshman. Been a good player, has grown a lot. I look forward to seeing what he does in the future.”