A big Fourth of July for head coach Will Muschamp and his University of South Carolina program was capped off on Tuesday afternoon by a commitment from running back Lavonte Valentine (6 feet, 188 pounds) of Melbourne, Florida, for the 2018 recruiting class.
His was the second commitment of the day for USC. In the morning defensive lineman Jabari Ellis of Georgia Military College committed to USC.
Valentine, who picked USC over Louisiana State and Louisville, is the 12th commitment for that class.
Valentine also is a track and field talent and is one of the fastest RBs in the country. USC recruiter Bobby Bentley impressed upon him early in the process USC's need for his speed and the opportunity he'll have at USC to run track as well.
Valentine also has much of his family in South Carolina and that too was a major attraction for him. However, it was the persistence of Muschamp and Bentley that won him over.
"Coach Bentley, I'm in contact with him, and Coach Muschamp like almost every single day since they've been recruiting me," Valentine said. "He did tell me it's going to be a great improvement for their program, I guess because they haven't had a speedy back or a back as fast as me. They like to run the ball, but they just don't have the back as fast as me. He said I'll fit in well; they'll put me on special teams and there's a variety of ways I can help the team."
USC offered Valentine earlier this year and he visited for the spring game. Muschamp made it clear to him he was a priority, but he never pressured him to commit, and in the end, that's a big reason why he got him.
"He hasn't ever told me I need you to commit now or your spot is going to be gone," Valentine said. "He never did anything like that. He never pressured me. And I have a strong connection with him. I talked to him every single day. He said whenever you're ready, you just commit. He told me I'm holding this spot for you and I could see he liked me a lot. Every time I talked to him it was like heartfelt conversations. I know he's not BS-ing me or anything like that."
Valentine rushed for 890 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. He said he can get the tough yards and run through contact, but he prefers those open spaces his speed creates.
"When I score touchdowns, it's like 50-, 60-, 70-, 80-yard runs," he said.
Valentine is the second RB commitment for the class and USC has filled its quota at the position for this class.
Valentine plans to attend the USC prospect gathering on July 22.
Ellis, who is from Vance, announced his commitment to USC on Tuesday in Orangeburg. Ellis (6 feet, 5 inches, 285) chose USC over North Carolina State, a decision he firmed up in his mind last week.
"It came down to who I felt most comfortable with," Ellis said. "I felt like I could have accomplished my goals at both schools, so it really came down to who I felt comfortable with and it was the Gamecocks. They offered me back in February, the first school to offer me. I knew from the start they wanted me, they needed me. Coach Muschamp and (assistant) Coach (Lance) Thompson were putting it in me every day, 'We need you, we need you, we need you.' That played a big part, too."
Ellis played a lot of defensive end in high school, and he made the Shrine Bowl team in '15. At GMC though, he was moved inside and made 14 tackles with four tackles for loss last season. He said USC also like him as an interior DL.
"Now I'm more of a technician," Ellis said. "At Lake Marion (High School in Santee), I was sort of a bully, but playing college you've got to focus on technique."
Ellis is the second junior college DT for the class. He has been impressed by what he's heard and seen from Muschamp over the past few months.
"I'm bought in the system," he said. "I believe in everything he's saying. He's turned their program around. Actually, I wanted to commit to Carolina before I went to (visit) N.C. State. But after the N.C. State visit, I was pretty much undecided. Great program. But Carolina, there's just something special there."
Miami was the big offer for Ellis out of high school and became his dream school, but he needed more academic work and ended up at GMC. He said Miami contacted him a couple of weeks ago and wanted him to visit and possibly get an offer, but his mind was already set on USC.
Ellis said USC wants to put another 10-15 pounds on him once he arrives and have him playing at around 300 pounds.
"They showed me a depth chart and told me they need more people at that position," he said. "They want me as a run stopper. I'm ready to bring that to the defense."
Ellis comes from an area of the state that's been strong with Clemson recent years. Most notably, former Tigers wide receiver Mike Williams, now with the Los Angeles Chargers, came from Lake Marion and is close friends with Ellis.
"I was joking with Mike that Carolina is going to beat Clemson," Ellis said. "I feel like they are making a 360 (degrees) turn and are really on the up-rise. Just like I said before, I'm bought in the system."
Linebacker Channing Tindall of Spring Valley High in Columbia is at The Opening in Oregon, and he told media there his top schools are USC, Georgia, Auburn, Florida and Notre Dame. He wants to visit UF, FSU and UGA in July and make his decision this month as well.
USC would like to sign another quarterback for the class and is continuing to sort through possibilities. Two are Cordel Littlejohn of Roswell, Ga., and Carter Bradley of Jacksonville, Fla. Neither has a USC offer, but Muschamp and offensive coordinator Kurt Roper plan further evaluations in July to determine if one, or both, should be offered.
Littlejohn attended USC's junior day in January and was back for a camp earlier this month. "Coach Roper, he really likes me," Littlejohn said. "He tells me that he's going to keep recruiting me, but wants to see me play a little bit of senior ball. When I went to the junior day, Coach Muschamp told me they really liked me, they just wanted to see me throw it live, and they were going to really recruit me hard."
Littlejohn also has been to UGA and Alabama this summer, and he's going to Louisville this month. He said USC and Louisville are the two schools showing the most interest in him at this point.
Bradley is the son of former Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley. He camped recently at LSU and Tiger head coach Ed Orgeron likes him a lot.
Muschamp wants to see him in a USC camp before doing more with him, and he's considering attending one on July 21. UGA also is strongly interested with head coach Kirby Smart leading the effort. He wants Bradley to visit next month for Dawg Night.
Bradley has dropped Mississippi from his list and replaced it with Auburn, which also has him high on the board.
Defensive back Jermaine McMillian of Miami recently named his top six as USC, Temple, Baylor, NCSU, Ole Miss and Mississippi State. He's not yet been to USC, but he plans to visit for the prospect social event on July 22.
"I'm going to be an early enrollee and I'm liking the early playing time," McMillan said. "I will be able to go in and play early. All I have to do is go in and work and I'll be able to play early. And I'd love to play in the SEC (Southeastern Conference)."
McMillian has not taken any visits thus far, but he plans to visit all the schools on his short list this month. He does not have any favorites at this point and he'd like to make his decision in mid-August, prior to his season.
WR Tyquan Johnson of Sylvania, Georgia, said USC now stands alone at the top of his list, and by a wide margin.
"They are just telling me they would use me as a big target, just throwing and slinging it," Johnson said. "And also opening the offense up for the running game, too."
Johnson said he will return to USC on July 22 for the prospect social gathering.
"South Carolina is my No. 1 choice right now," Johnson said, with Mississippi State second and West Virginia third. "It was neck and neck but it has grown bigger and bigger because South Carolina is recruiting me real, real, real hard, like heavy."
Despite a strong lean to USC, Johnson said he won't make a commitment until December. He does not have any current plans to visit Mississippi State or WVU.
Conway High DE Raiqwon O'Neal picked up his 30th offer last month from NCSU. USC also is one of his offers and he remains in regular contact with DL coach Thompson.
O'Neal will make a return visit to USC on July 22 and will visit Maryland, Rutgers, Penn State, WVU, Virginia and Michigan by the end of July. O'Neal doesn't have a favorite, but he said Maryland has the best program in his major, which will be graphic design. He plans to trim his list after he takes his July visits.
Offensive lineman Jovaughn Gwyn of Charlotte has a short list of USC, Duke and NCSU. Gwyn was at a USC camp last month and since then he's been in touch with Muschamp along with OL coach Eric Wolford and recruiter Bentley. They continue to impress upon him their need for OLs.
"There's a good chance because a lot of them (OLs) are seniors or juniors who will become seniors, so there's a good chance that if I come and work for a spot I can start," Gwyn said. He feels NCSU is recruiting him the hardest at this point.
DE Dorian Gerald, a Florence native who attends College of the Canyons JC in California, announced his top five list as USC, Tennessee, Louisville, UF and UGA. He visited USC and Tennessee unofficially last month and has an official visit to Louisville set for Sept. 16.
USC DL target Antwuan Jackson is headed to Blinn JC in Texas after transferring from Auburn, according to JC Shurburtt of TheBigSpur. He was blocked by Auburn from transferring straight to any other SEC school, Clemson, Ohio State, Georgia State and Mercer.
Latrell Jean, a '19 DE from Lakeland, Florida, plans to visit USC at the end of July.
After missing on RB Zamir White of Laurinburg, N.C., when he committed to UGA, Clemson responded by offering two other RB prospects it passed on earlier. On Saturday, the Tigers offered Lyn-J Dixon of Butler, Ga., a Tennessee commitment. The Tigers were one of the teams on his short list when he committed to the Volunteers late last month.
And Clemson offered Master Teague III of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, last Friday. He is an Ohio State commitment and said he is sticking with that commitment.
"I think the Clemson offer is definitely a great offer and opportunity," Teague said. "It makes me continue to think about God blessing me. It makes me know that hard work and patience are good. Clemson has a great program and great coaches. I think about that stuff. I haven't thought about changing my decision. I am still excited about that."
DB Quindarious Monday of Atlanta named his top seven as Clemson, FSU, Auburn, UGA, Tennessee, UF and Georgia Tech.
DE KJ Henry of Clemmons, N.C., is at The Opening and told Rivals he hopes to get to Clemson's All-In Cookout this month, but may not be able to due to a 7-on-7 tournament in Canton, Ohio, July 20-22. He instead might visit Ohio State with his teammates while in Ohio. He also said USC, Alabama, UGA, Ohio State and Virginia Tech are the other main teams with him at this point.
DB Tyson Campbell of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, told 247Sports two of his official visits this fall will be to Clemson and Ohio State.
Oklahoma RB commitment TJ Pledger of IMG Academy told 247Sports at The Opening he will take officials to Clemson, Oklahoma and Nebraska. He said his commitment is still solid.
Dominick Blaylock, a '19 WR from Marietta, Georgia, is down to Clemson, UGA and Auburn with his decision coming in August.
New Clemson offers went to '19 WR Arjei Henderson of Richmond, Texas, and '19 DB Jammie Robinson of Cordele, Ga.