DUNCAN, S.C. - The state of South Carolina has been a hotbed for high school football talent in recent years, but if the early indicators of the Class of 2012 are to be believed, the hotbed could turn lukewarm.
The Palmetto State has had five five-star players since the Class of 2008 - including the No. 1 player in the nation from the Class of 2011, Jadaveon Clowney - and averaged 61 players committing to Division I programs over that span.
Wide receiver Shaq Roland is currently the only player from South Carolina to be ranked among the top 100 players by Rivals.com (No. 63), but his ranking is the lowest of any No. 1 player from South Carolina in the five-year time frame.
Coaches and analysts fall on different sides of the debate.
Roland's coach at Lexington (S.C.) High, Scott Earley, remains optimistic of the state's talent.
"We are a small state, but we produce great players," he said. "I would take our top 100 players and line them up with any state's top 100."
Earley coached in the 2010 Shrine Bowl, which annually matches the best of North Carolina against South Carolina, and said that he regularly sees what his state can produce.
"Our senior class last year was special, but this year is very good too," he said. "And if you look at our underclassmen, we are strong."
Earley may not be alone in the coaching community, but he has opposition.
"Look at last year's class," Myrtle Beach (S.C.) High head coach Mickey Wilson said. "Clowney, Everett (Golson), and (Justin) Worley were all making national headlines. Those kids were special, I am not sure we have that this year."
Rivals.com national analyst Mike Farrell agrees.
"South Carolina is down for sure this year, especially when it comes to depth of talent," he said. "Right now there are 29 players with offers in the state, but few of them have major SEC offers."
Among those players are Devontre Parnell, Justin Meredith, Ronald Geohaghan, Martin Aiken and Quinshad Davis - all have been rated as four-star players - but they are fewer and further between in this class.
Of the classes since 2008, South Carolina's current crop is down.
The state has averaged one five-star, 10 four-stars, 24 three-stars and 16 two-star players.
This season it has no five-stars, six four-stars and only 19 three-stars. (The two-stars have not yet been assigned.) But even if the state matches its average on the lowest rung, the top-tier depth is decidedly not the same.
"It is cyclical," Wilson said. "Some years are very good and some are not, this class isn't as good as last year but there are still a fair amount of good players."
The Palmetto State Showdown 7-on-7 has grown into one of the best events of the summer passing tournament circuit. It regularly draws top team and individual talent. It also has been able to attract partners that make the event possible.
"It needs to be front and center that we couldn't do this without the support from the National Guard," event organizer Tony McAbee said.
The presence of the Guard was impossible to miss. Humvees, banners and members of the Guard were all very visible.
While the partnership helps make the event possible for host school, Duncan (S.C.) Byrnes, it is the Guard that says it benefits the most.
"We get to give back to our community," SFC Vance Burgess said. "We are not here trying to recruit kids. We are here to support the community."
Burgess has been tied to the community for generations. His mother graduated from nearby Spartanburg (S.C.) High. He graduated from Byrnes and his daughter went to rival school, Roebuck (S.C.) Dorman.
It is the tradition and tie to the community that Burgess says fuels the passion for the Guard in South Carolina.
"A lot of these kids fathers have served in some branch or in the National Guard," he said. "Many of their fathers were in the Guard and there are a lot of kids that want to follow in their parents footsteps."
Burgess, who is the recruiter for much of Spartanburg County, says that the initial message of the Guard is not military related. It is sound life advice.
"We talk to kids about today's issues," he said. "We live in a day when I can spend 30 minutes and 25 dollars and know everything I need to know about you. There are simple life skills that kids need to be shown and we know what it takes to be successful in life."
The message for the Guard is similar to that of any branch of the military.
"We can give people an opportunity they may not get otherwise," Burgess said. "Not every kid out here is going to have a chance to get a college scholarship to play football. And not every kid that wants to be in the military is going to be on the frontlines in Afghanistan or Iraq.
"Right now we are in wartime and there are some benefits for people who join now, but the best thing that can happen for us is to have some kids see us here and see us helping and go back to their community and say, 'Look what those guys were doing, I want to be a part of that.'"
Two nationally-known schools were fast friends at the Palmetto State Showdown 7-on-7 as Moultrie (Ga.) Colquitt County coach Rush Propst indicated that he would like to play a game against Oradell (N.J.) Bergen Catholic. Bergen's Athletic Director Jack McGovern was happy to hear it saying, "We are looking to do a lot of things and I know Nunzio will play anyone, anywhere if it makes financial sense to do it."
Lexington (S.C.) High head coach Scott Earley said that the evolution of summer leagues has gone to another level. He said, "We used to do these events to get an edge. Now we have to do them to keep from getting embarrassed when the season starts."
Spartanburg (S.C.) High made an early exit from the tournament play Saturday. After going undefeated in pool play, the team was knocked out in its first game against Louisville (Ga.) Jefferson County. Head coach Freddy Brown said he had a bad feeling. "I don't like single elimination tournaments," he said. "Feel like any team can beat any team once, I would like to have another chance at them."