Long before South Carolina State officially announced that Buddy Pough was returning for an 18th season, the coach and his staff had been on the recruiting trails, showing up at practices during the week of the Shrine Bowl and the Touchstone Energy Cooperatives Bowl.
Pough says the new early signing period for football has worked out well for schools like S.C. State because the Division One schools have most of their recruiting class on board. Pough says that allows programs like S.C. State to scoop up some talented players who are still unsigned at the 11th hour.
"Most of the time, we think we get the best players at the end of the process, right at the very end because those guys are still holding out a level of hope that they can go to Carolina and Clemson," Pough said.
"Everybody that's here wants to be at one of those places. They want to be at Georgia and Auburn and South Carolina and Clemson. The fact that they're not going to get that particular offer kind of dawns on them in a way where 'little old South Carolina State looks pretty good to me. I need to maybe try to see if I can do that now'. That's when we get hot on most of what's our best players. The Darius Leonards of the world. You know what, Heck, let me tell you what. We had to nurse him all the way through maybe through the middle of February before we could be sure that we were going to get him because the fact that those guys are still looking."
Leonard left S.C. State as the school's all-time leading tackler and a two-time MEAC Defensive Player of the Year. He is currently a starting linebacker for the Indianapolis Colts.