By Robert Wilson

When South Carolina head football coach Shane Beamer was recruiting coordinator and assistant coach at Mississippi State in 2006, he recruited and signed Terry High star running back Anthony Dixon, who went on to set a single season school rushing record and led the Bulldogs in rushing touchdowns in each of his four seasons.

Dixon was a sixth-round draft pick in the NFL and played six seasons with the San Francisco 49ers and the Buffalo Bills.

Beamer’s latest Mississippi recruit – Madison-Ridgeland Academy Under Armour All-American linebacker Stone Blanton – could follow Dixon’s path to success in the SEC and make it to the NFL.

His coach at MRA – Herbert Davis – believes he can.

“I have said all along Stone could play in the NFL if he stays healthy and works hard,” Davis said. “I believe he will have a great college career at South Carolina.”

Davis has seen one of his players – former MRA and LSU offensive lineman Saahdiq Charles – make the NFL. Charles was a starter on LSU’s national championship team in 2019, was selected in the fourth round of the NFL Draft in 2020 and is playing for the Washington Football Team this season.

Blanton made his announcement Monday morning to go to South Carolina in the MRA gym before the school’s student body. He had four caps sitting in from of him – Mississippi State, Ole Miss, South Carolina, and Texas A&M. He is scheduled to sign Wednesday, the first day of the NCAA early signing period.

The four-star recruit’s announcement caused South Carolina to jump from No. 18 to No. 16 in the 247 Sports Composite recruiting rankings. South Carolina, under Beamer who just completed his first season, appears to have a shot at its best recruiting season since 2007 when Beamer was recruiting coordinator under Steve Spurrier. South Carolina is currently ranked sixth highest in the SEC. Texas A&M is third, MSU ninth and Ole Miss 12th.

Photo by Robert Smith

Blanton is ranked as the No. 8 player in Mississippi and the No. 36 linebacker in the country by 247 Sports. South Carolina also has a commitment from four-star linebacker Jaishawn Barham of Maryland, ranked as the No. 8 linebacker in the country by MaxPreps.

Blanton, who also plans on playing baseball at South Carolina, made an official visit there this summer and came back to go to two football games, including Beamer’s first win in the season opener against Eastern Illinois and the season finale against archrival Clemson.

“I love how real Coach Beamer is and the culture he has created,” Blanton said. “The atmosphere is amazing there.”

The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Blanton had 125 tackles, 26 for loss, with 11 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery and 1 interception despite missing the first several games recovering from shoulder surgery in the off season. He helped MRA to a 11-3 record and its third straight MAIS Class 3A state championship.

South Carolina finished 6-6 overall and 3-5 in the SEC, tied for fourth in the SEC East, and upset Auburn and Florida this season. South Carolina is playing North Carolina in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl Dec. 30 in Charlotte.

A lot of the success is because of Beamer, whose wife, Cheryl, is from Starkville. Beamer was a part of Sylvester Croom’s staff at MSU from 2004-2006, coaching cornerbacks and running backs and being recruiting coordinator. Bringing in Dixon was his most prized recruit.

Since MSU, Beamer was an assistant under Spurrier at South Carolina from 2007-2010, Virginia Tech under his dad Frank from 2011-2015, Georgia under Kirby Smart from 2016-2017 and associate head coach under Lincoln Riley at Oklahoma from 2018-2020.

“South Carolina has a great staff and couldn’t be more excited about going there,” Blanton said. “We started our relationship about a year ago when they offered me, and it grew over time. I fell in love with the place when I went on the official visit and then was blown away when they flew down and saw me (Beamer and the defensive and offensive coordinator came down to MRA last week to visit with Blanton).”

Blanton was torn about leaving his family, friends, and high school classmates in Mississippi.

“It was a tough decision to leave home, but it was the best one for me,” Blanton said. “South Carolina’s program is only getting better and I’m super excited to get there. South Carolina is a special place and have a great baseball program as well. I’ll have to manage my time and work super hard to play both, but that’s exactly what I want to do.”

Blanton, an outfielder, is considered one of the top players in Mississippi and Perfect Game projects him as a possible Top 10 round pick in next summer’s Major League Baseball draft.

South Carolina has been one of the best teams in college baseball since 1970, with two national championships (2010 and 2011), six College World series final appearances, 11 CWS berths and 33 NCAA Tournament appearances. South Carolina holds the record with 22 consecutive wins in the NCAA Tournament and longest winning streak in the CWS (12 games).