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Wharton High QB Andrew Clifford heads to South Carolina

TAMPA — The waiting proved agonizing but, ultimately, worth it.

Before Wharton QB Andrew Clifford left Columbia, S.C., on Sunday, he had time to send a handful of text messages.

"I'm a Gamecock," Clifford wrote in one.

The message ended one of the quickest courtships between a school and a prospective athlete, at least on the local scene.

Clifford became a prime target for South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier once former Gamecocks QB Chris Smelley transferred to Alabama to play baseball.

Clifford wanted to play college football at a major Division I program as his father, Tom Clifford, did at Florida in the 1970s.

A prototypical pocket passer, Clifford has plenty of promise. His senior season got off to a slow start, but he finished throwing for 2,263 yards, 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. His passing got hot toward the end of the season, and he was able to guide the Wildcats to the playoffs, throwing for more than 300 yards in his last three games. By then, many schools had already invested time into other quarterbacks or gained oral commitments.

Smelley, who shared time at quarterback with former Jefferson QB Stephen Garcia, transferred after he played for the Gamecocks in the Outback Bowl. Spurrier reached out to Clifford with a phone call, then a visit to Wharton two weeks ago.

Clifford's commitment ends a flurry of activity with Wharton recruits, which began last week when OL Hunter Stout committed to Louisville, Wildcats assistant Craig Rainey confirmed. On Saturday, SS Jairus Jones committed to Michigan State.

Already committed, Smith celebrates

Armwood LB Petey Smith was expected to announce his commitment Saturday at Seffner's Beef O'Brady's.

Instead, he committed to Alabama last week when coach Nick Saban came to his house.

Beef O'Brady's was still slammed with well-wishers, including Sean Callahan and some of his Armwood coaching staff and teammates, and former Hawk and former Jacksonville Jaguar Mike Pearson.

Petey's older brother, Eric Smith, who is a running back at Auburn, made the trip to celebrate his brother's choice.

"My brother had to make the choice that was right for him," Eric said. "He did that; Alabama was the place for him. I'm happy for him."

The Smith brothers always looked for ways to distinguish themselves growing up, and playing on opposite sides in one of the country's biggest rivalries is one way to do it.

What does Eric think of possibly having to bowl over his younger brother in the Iron Bowl?

"Seeing him on the field in the jersey of our most hated rival will make it a little more intense," Eric said. "It's all good and fun. … Really, you can't put into words what kind of rivalry that is."

Odds and ends: Countryside RB Dawrence Roberts, who rushed for nearly 1,000 yards last season, has an offer from Illinois State, Cougars coach John Davis said. … Northeast DB Juarez Wynn, who already took trips to USF and Kansas State, will not sign Wednesday, said Vikings assistant Kenny Crawford. Wynn is waiting to boost his qualifying score, according to Crawford. … Largo LB Mike Marry went to West Virginia over the weekend. He also has visited Iowa State, USF and Mississippi.

Times staff writer Bob Putnam contributed to this report.

. fast facts

About this series

This is the fourth in a weekly look at area college football recruiting. Currently, players may make only nonbinding oral commitments. They can make it official Wednesday.

Wharton High QB Andrew Clifford heads to South Carolina 02/01/09 [Last modified: Sunday, February 1, 2009 6:05pm]
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