CONWAY, S.C. -- Marlboro County star Syvelle Newton capped a season he couldn't control in a way few could believe, selecting South Carolina and coach Lou Holtz as his college home.
"I'm gonna shock the world," Newton said shortly before announcing his decision on WPDE-TV Monday night.
Two hats - one from Clemson, the other from the Gamecocks - sat before Newton. As he read his choice on camera, he picked up the Tiger hat and put it on his head. Newton continued on, thanking his family, coaches and friends, the hat defying all who thought he was headed to the Columbia campus.
But Newton wasn't done.
"I will be signing on Wednesday with the University of ...," he said, throwing off the orange Clemson cap and replacing it with his true selection, South Carolina.
"I said coming in I was going to mess with them," Newton said after, a big smile on his face. "I wanted to give everyone a good laugh."
This season hadn't been much of a laugh for Newton.
He was one of the state's top prospects heading into his senior season and expected to defend his team's state championship. Newton would finish things up with a big-time face-off against North Carolina prep star Chris Leake, considered the nation's top quarterback prospect, in the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas all-star game.
Instead, Newton's Bulldogs were banned from the playoffs by the South Carolina High School League for their part in a postgame brawl with Northwestern High last September. Then Newton was snubbed for the all-star game, playing in the less prestigious North-South All-Star game in December.
"He never let that get to him," Marlboro County coach Dean Boyd said. "Going through it probably made him stronger."
Newton, who threw for 933 yards and rushed for 1,029 yards this year, said he was definitely disappointed things didn't fall his way this year. "But the seniors got together and we knew we had to keep playing for ourselves," Newton said. "None of that bothered me, not one time."
Especially now with Newton heading to the Gamecocks on Wednesday, the first day prospects can sign a national letter of intent. NCAA rules prevent Holtz from talking about any recruits before signing day.
"It was a real tough decision," said Newton, who also visited UCLA and Vanderbilt along with the two state schools. "I just feel that South Carolina was a situation where I can come in and turn it around offensively. That's what I really think South Carolina is missing."
Newton said his options sold him on the Gamecocks. He wants to work at quarterback this year, but if that doesn't work, he sees opportunities at wide receiver or defensive back.
Clemson was stocked with six-or-so quarterbacks before Newton and fewer chance to go to wideout or the secondary. Still, Newton and his family chewed things over until this past weekend.
"People may not think it was close," Newton said. "I was like 52-48" for South Carolina.
The Gamecocks are in need of quarterback depth. Junior Dondrial Pinkins started the final two games after a so-so season subbing for Corey Jenkins. No one else on South Carolina's incoming roster has played a down under center.
Can Newton start for the Gamecocks right away? "Syvelle thinks he can," Boyd said.
He already has shown success in option formations and the spread offense run by South Carolina, Boyd said. But going up against Southeastern Conference competition is a step Newton might have to take more slowly, his high school coach said.
Newton's confidence, however, may make a slow transition impossible.
He pointed to Ohio State's freshman runner, Maurice Clarett, who helped the Buckeyes go from middle of the Big Ten Conference in 2001 to undefeated national champions in 2002.
"I'm not comparing myself to him," Newton said. "But he was the big thing Ohio State was missing for them to get over the hump. They got the freshman there and they got to the next level."
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