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December 15, 2004

Will South Carolina’s defense be up to the task?

Spartanburg, S.C.- It's no secret that only the top talent in the Palmetto and Tar Heel states receive an invitation to the North Carolina-South Carolina Shrine Bowl. The first few days many of the players and coaches spent their time feeling each other out and getting to know one another and adjust to the scheme of things. After two days of dual practices on Monday and Tuesday, things began to heat up and it was obvious things were beginning to come together for both squads.

Typically the Shrine Bowl has been a game where the teams are relatively on the same level from a talent standpoint. However, this year there is no doubt that the group from North Carolina has an overall advantage in that department. Looking down the roster the North Carolina offense alone has five Rivals 100 members and the defense is equally as impressive. If the South Carolina defense can somehow manage to slow down running backs Toney Baker, Monterio Hardesty and James Arnold, then they must deal with the vaunted passing game.

TEAMMATES FOR A WEEK, RIVALS IN FUTURE
Two pairs of future teammates have been playing pitch and catch all week and hope to carry it over to Saturday's contest. It appears as though Tuscola quarterback and Tennessee commit Jonathan Crompton will get the start for North Carolina on Saturday. One of the receivers he'll be hoping to hook up with for many Saturday's to come is fellow Tennessee commit Josh Briscoe, who has looked in drills so far this week.

When Crompton isn't taking the snaps Independence signal caller Joe Cox will be. Cox's favorite target the past target the past two years, teammate Mohamed Massaquoi will continue to be his favorite target on Saturday and beyond, as both are committed to play for the University of Georgia. Though they will all be on the same team Saturday, they will be SEC east division rivals for the next four years.

LOOK OUT FOR SLEEPERS TO AWAKEN
While there are actually very few prospects in this game that could be considered sleepers, as virtually all of them are being recruited and have Division I scholarship offers, most people are expected guys like Johnathan Crompton, Toney Baker, Mohamed Massaquoi, Monterio Hardesty, C.J. Byrd, Eric Huggins and Jamie Robinson to steal the show, there are a couple of guys that aren't being talked about as much that you may be hearing a lot about after Saturday's game.

For the South Carolina squad, one man was catching everyone's eye on defense and that was Greenville defensive lineman Nathan Pepper.

The South Carolina commitment attended the NIKE camp in Atlanta back in May and performed well, but did not stand out among all of the talent in attendance. After seeing him early in the week, it is easy to see that Pepper has grown noticeably taller in the seven months since the camp. He also looks far more lean and in shape than he did in May. Pepper was in the backfield all day on Tuesday and even picked off a pass.

One of the most physically impressive prospects on the field for the North Carolina squad is linebacker Maurice Covington, who actually worked with the wide receivers most of the day on Tuesday and Wednesday. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound Covington is built similarly to that of Eric Huggins, a wide receiver for the South Carolina squad, who is committed to the Oklahoma Sooners.

He runs exceptionally well and is extremely strong and aggressive. He is able to show his amazing athletic ability by working at receiver this week, but still has the "look" of a linebacker.

DB'S ON DISPLAY
When taking an initial look at the rosters everyone immediately notices the great offensive players for both teams in this game, particularly on the North Carolina roster. The position that may be the most blessed overall in the game though, is defensive back. The lineup of defensive back for the South Carolina squad is just flat out frightening. The Palmetto State squad is anchored by Georgia commitment C.J. Byrd and Northwestern superstar Jamie Robinson.

Clemson commit Rendrick Taylor will also be playing defensive back and South Carolina commit Mychal Belcher will help the shutdown efforts. Four star defensive back J.C. Neal also will be helping defend the vaunted North Carolina passing attack.

While it would be hard to top the defensive backfield from the Palmetto State, the defensive backfield from North Carolina is awfully good as well. It is headlined by Parkland's Antonio Wardlow and Jack Britt's Brandon Ghee, who have both lived up to the billing this week in practice. Rocky Mount's Stephen Virgil has looked really good all week long and will match-up well with the wideouts from South Carolina.

WHERE'S THE BEEF?
The answer to that question is, on the South Carolina offensive line. While you can always expect some big prospects (literally and figuaratively) in the trenches in a game like this, it really looks like the Southern boys have been eating their Wheaties. Even though the South Carolina squad might be a little meatier overall than the boys from the Tar Heel squad, the biggest man on the field is Fayetteville (N.C.) E.E. Smith offensive tackle Curtis Crouch. He checks in at a massive 6-foot-6, 320 pounds and moves exceptionally well for a man of his stature. If you sit and watch this kid for just ten minutes it is easy to see why he is considered to be one of the nation's premier offensive lineman.

Kernersville (N.C.) Glenn product Christopher DeGeare is also a very, very big man, who checked in at 6-foot-4, 335-pounds and has performed well all week and drills and during team scrimmage.

The North Carolina-South Carolina Shrine Bowl is an annual all-star game that pits the top seniors from both states. The game will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday. Rivals.com will continue to bring you coverage of practices and events leading up to the game.


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