South Carolina Football: A look at the bricks of the “Great Wall of Columbia”

Blake Franks was the latest commtiment for South Carolina football, and the Gamecocks are ranked in the top-10 nationally for the 2024 cycle. Mandatory Credit: Syndication: The Greenville News
Blake Franks was the latest commtiment for South Carolina football, and the Gamecocks are ranked in the top-10 nationally for the 2024 cycle. Mandatory Credit: Syndication: The Greenville News /

The South Carolina football program has been rebuilding under coach Shane Beamer, and the results have been almost as good as could be expected.

After a 4-win 2019 and a 2-win 2020 under Will Muschamp, Beamer led the Gamecocks to bowl games in his first two seasons, compiling a 7-6 record in 2021 and an 8-5 mark in 2022.

Even with several close games not going the way South Carolina football would like each season under Beamer, the Gamecocks improved their record and national perception each year.

The culture appears to be improving, as well. Reports from around the program at the end of the Muschamp era said that the locker room had become extremely individualistic and primarily about putting players in the NFL rather than team success (which usually ends up with players in the League, anyway).

That is changing under Beamer who emphasizes brotherhood and family as tenets of his program. “Above all else, love your brother” has become a rallying cry inside the Long Family Football Operations Center, and the camaraderie that exists between teammates is seen much more prominently than in years past.

Recruiting has picked up as well, and there might not be a position group that symbolizes that reality more than the offensive line.

The big uglies up front struggled a bit in Beamer’s first season in 2021, and the fan base took notice. However, behind the scenes, the South Carolina football staff was putting together a recruiting plan that would change one of the team’s biggest negatives into a positive.

Offensive line coaches Greg Adkins and Lonnie Teasley held on to the commitment of 4-star lineman Ryan Brubaker and 3-star players Cason Henry and Grayson Mains, three of the earliest 2022 commitments to the Beamer-led Gamecocks. All three players signed and have been pushing for spots in the two-deep ever since.

Then, in the class of 2023, things started trending upward even more.

4-star offensive linemen Markee Anderson, Trovon Baugh, and Oluwatosin “Big Tree” Babalade all pledged their services to the Gamecocks in the offseason after the 2021 campaign, and high-upside 3-star tackle Jatavius Shivers joined them. Despite significant pushes from other schools for all four prospects, the Gamecocks signed them all.

Anderson enrolled early and has made a mark already as a true freshman. Coach Beamer said in an offseason interview that Anderson “will play” in 2023 and could see time at any offensive line position. Baugh, Babalade, and Shivers enrolled more recently but are expected to develop into players who will compete for spots in the future 2-deep.

The foundation was set for what was beginning to be known as the “Great Wall of Columbia” with the classes of 2022 and 2023, but the nickname took off when the next brick was added to the Wall in the class of 2024.

Big-time (emphasis on big) offensive tackle recruit Kam Pringle committed to the Gamecocks this offseason. The top-100 national prospect is 6’8″ and 330 pounds and is rated as highly as the #1 offensive tackle in the country (ESPN). The South Carolina native will be tough to keep off the field at tackle when he arrives in Columbia next year.

Within a couple of months of Pringle’s commitment, two more 4-stars joined the class in Greenville High School product Blake Franks (a likely interior player in the future) and Dillon High School stud Josiah Thompson (a prototype left tackle).

Franks is a thick-bodied player who has the strength to block in the run game on the interior and the experience of playing tackle in high school to aid in pass blocking. Thompson is rated as highly as the second-best offensive tackle in the nation (both On3 and 247Sports) and is in a position to be a potential 5-star according to On3 in future updates.

In a couple of seasons, South Carolina football could be looking at a starting offensive line unit that includes two blue chip tackles (Babalade, Pringle, and Thompson were all consensus 4-star recruits) and three 4-star interior linemen at guard and center (Brubaker, Anderson, Baugh, and Franks were all considered as 4-stars by at least one recruiting agency during their recruitments).

This does not even consider any future recruiting additions or the more underrated 3-star players already on the team. Players like Cason Henry and Jatavius Shivers are believed to be as talented as any lineman on the team and could make real impacts if they develop well.

For those who understand football, it is well-known how important offensive line play is to team success. Keeping quarterbacks upright and creating running lanes for skill position players are some of the keys to moving the ball on offense in big-time college football.

Some of the best offensive line classes in recent seasons have been signed by Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State, Penn State, Notre Dame, and Oregon, programs whose successes speak for themselves.

Let’s take a quick look into exactly what South Carolina football is getting in the three 2024 bricks in the Great Wall.

Kam Pringle

Kam Pringle was the first offensive lineman committed in the class, and he is also the biggest. Standing at about 6’8″ and 330 pounds, he will be the biggest player on the team the moment he arrives on campus.

Pringle has really long arms that allow him, along with his sheer size, to stonewall pass rushers if he gets his hands on them. In the run game, Pringle is so enormous that defenders at the high school level can do nothing against him. Some of that will translate, especially because he plays really hard, but he will need to work on his technique at the next level.

Pringle is also a better athlete than one would expect from a player of his size. On film, he is constantly moving and looking to find another victim, even in space at the second and third levels of the defense. He has a future at either tackle spot for South Carolina football.

You can watch some of his film here.

Blake Franks

Blake Franks is strong. He carries most of his 320 pounds in his lower half and uses that leg power to drive defenders backward in the run game and to halt them in their tracks in pass protection. He will likely transition inside once he arrives in college, but he plays tackle for his high school, and that experience as a pass blocker could be helpful for his transition.

Most high school offensive linemen really struggle to fire off the ball low and to explode up through their blocks. Not Franks. The big man is explosive off the snap and powers off the ball low and lifts defenders off the ground if he gets his hands on them.

Franks is also a good mover. On film, he seems to enjoy pulling and folding and routinely catches unaware linebackers and defensive backs for big hits. He also takes good steps on reach blocks, something that displays more polish in his game than most kids his age have in their bags.

You can watch some of his film here.

Josiah Thompson

Josiah Thompson is the highest potential player in the 2024 recruiting class. He is still somewhat raw with some of his technique, but he is a freak of an athlete. Appropriately nicknamed “Big Cat,” Thompson moves differently than almost any other 6’7″, 280-pound human has ever moved.

Thompson fires off the ball extremely hard and low in the run game. His pass blocking technique is unrefined, but if one were to build a pass protector in a lab, the physical result would look just like Josiah Thompson. His 6’11” wingspan and quick feet will make opposing EDGE rushers wish for a position change if he buys into his coaching at the next level.

Thompson may need a little time to develop, especially in adding size. He is athletic enough that he could easily hold 300+ pounds and still keep his quick movement ability, and in the SEC, 300 pounds is almost a necessity. If he can do that, the sky is the limit for Big Cat.

You can watch some of his film here.

The Great Wall of Columbia is being built brick by enormous brick, and the South Carolina football program gets a bit better with every bit of added fortification.