Shameik Blackshear is lifting 235 pounds in the power clean when line coach David Poinsett walks in.
“Defensive backs at South Carolina lift that!” he yells mockingly from across the room, drawing laughter from Blackshear’s Bluffton High School football teammates.
The defensive end simply looks back and smiles.
“Dont worry,” he says. “I’m just warming up.”
Blackshear steps off and takes a short breath. He calls over a teammate, whom he enlists to help add more weights to the bar. Blackshear steps back up, his teammates looking on. He gets to work.
“Manhandle it!” coach Ken Cribb screams. “Push it!”
This was a rare scene in the Bluffton High weight room. Blackshear normally finds himself here without much of an audience — he has a block set out during the school day that allows him to use the room without many others present — but on this day, he didn’t seem to mind.
“It makes me feel good,” he said, the sweat from this latest workout still pouring from his brow. “It shows me they want me to work harder for my team, myself and my future.”
That future wasn’t a big concern of Blackshear’s until recently. He admits his work ethic had been lacking, assuming his physical presence would be enough to earn an FBS offer.
It took the prodding of college assistants and Cribb’s staff to get their rising star going. And to a man, he’s become a different animal since receiving his first major offer from South Carolina last fall.
“He started good when the recruiting hit,” Cribb said as he watched Blackshear lift, with the phrase, ‘No pain, no gain’ painted above him on the wall. “I think he realized his potential, his future. If he wants to really secure his future and maybe career, he needs to make sure he’s No. 1.”
Blackshear’s future is now, he says. Another National Signing Day has come and gone with the spotlight far away from Beaufort County.
He, alongside a few other area defenders, seeks to change that. The sophomore has been called by some the next great in-state defensive end in what has become a long line of them. His early projections have him listed as the next hot prospect nationally, raising the question of whether he could be one of the area’s few all-time “can’t miss” players.
“I saw him scrimmage against Marlboro County,” recruiting analyst Jim Baxter said. “I really felt like he was going to be the next big thing in South Carolina. And I still feel that way.”
DUCK AND DODGE
Blackshear had earned his first college offer to South Carolina on Nov. 14, two days before the Bobcats traveled to Goose Creek. Six days later, North Carolina joined the fray.
The celebration was on.
“I didn’t take it to heart,” he said. “I thought, ‘Oh well, I’m going Division 1, so I can slack off now and when it comes time, I can pick it back up.’ ”
In due time, the 2015 prospect would be heading to college, his future apparently set in stone. His work in the weight room, at least at first, showed that.
“Before, he’d duck and dodge,” Cribb said. “He’d do it when he felt like he had to, but it wasn’t something he was really interested in or really wanted to do.”
A conversation with then-South Carolina defensive line coach Brad Lawing changed that. The longtime assistant set the truth straight for the young prospect.
“I wasn’t working hard, I guess,” Blackshear said. “He said you’ve got to turn it on because once you get to that next level, you have to already have that strength and toughness to play. You can’t just develop once you get there because it’ll be too late and you’ll fall behind all the other good players that are there as well.
“You’ll be somebody else behind the curtains instead of being an all-star player.”
His attitude changed. So, too, did his time in the weight room. The light had switched on for Blackshear, who earned sophomore All-American honors from MaxPreps despite still being so far away from his ultimate potential.
The goals were bigger now.
“Now, you don’t have to say anything to him,” Cribb said. “He’s here waiting on you. He’s working it hard, getting it done.”
This is where he’ll need to take the biggest jump, Baxter said. Unlike current Gamecock Jadeveon Clowney, whom Blackshear hopes to model his game after, the 15-year-old will need to excel with weights in order to maximize his potential. The former was a “scary” 235 pounds at the prep level, Baxter said, and Blackshear isn’t there just yet.
“He’s a young man that has the frame and the skill to become one of the best players at his position in the country,” he said. “But you’ve got to have the entire package. Part of that is strength.”
A BRIEF MEETING
Blackshear doesn’t think Clowney knew who he was the day of his unofficial visit to South Carolina’s football game against Missouri. To the Gamecocks star, he was just another fan.
The two exchanged pleasantries — they talked of Clowney’s latest game and the college standout’s car — but nothing more than that.
“He thought I was a stranger,” Blackshear said. “It was real brief and short.”
Comparisons between the two defensive ends are anything but short.
Entering his junior year, Blackshear fits into a 6-foot-5, 235-pound frame, the same as Clowney at that age. Clowney ran a 4.4 40-yard dash, while Blackshear was last clocked at 4.6 last summer. He expects to be around 4.4 when he runs again later this week, he said.
Clowney could bench 300 pounds his senior year, former coach Bobby Carroll said, and power cleaned 335. Blackshear has goals of benching 360 as a junior, squating 500 and pushing 325 in the power clean by next season.
“The biggest similarity you’re going to see from a Clowney in high school and a Blackshear in high school is their physical presence,” Baxter said. “They’re both very gifted in that area. Blackshear, in my opinion, is a lot like Clowney in that, at the same point after their sophomore year, they were both very light for their position.”
Blackshear, who will don Clowney’s No. 7 next season for Bluffton, has heard the comparisons. New USC defensive line coach Deke Adams was the latest to broach the subject at the school’s junior day last month as the two talked over lunch.
“He said, ‘After (Clowney’s) gone, it’s you,’ ” Blackshear recalled. “He said they need me there because I’m a person that’s just like him. We play the same and all that. He said they need me to come fill his shoes when he leaves.”
Make no mistake — few will ever compare to Clowney. Baxter and Carroll both called the future NFL player the best they’ve seen in over three decades in the sport. But that isn’t slowing Blackshear down from emulating his idol.
“It’s a coincidence, because I always wanted to be the kind of player he was,” Blackshear said. “I always wanted to be like him and do what he does on the field. For me to be the same size as him at the same time, the same age in the same year, that means I can maybe be as great as he is.”
THE NEXT BIG PROSPECT?
Carroll has seen pictures of Blackshear. Whether he sees attributes of Clowney, his former standout at South Pointe, remains to be seen.
What he does see, however, is another South Carolina defensive end on the rise.
“They just keep popping up,” he said. “There’s been a bunch of them. The game has kind of changed. We’re going against all these spread offenses, so these pass rush specialists are becoming more and more valuable.”
Defenses are putting a premium on athletic players who can rush the passer without having to manhandle an offensive lineman. They’re looking for guys who have the height to bat down passes and the speed to go around the edge.
No one has done that better lately than the state of South Carolina.
Clowney, Daquan Bowers, Carlos Dunlap, Cliff Matthews, Sam Montgomery, Devin Taylor, the list goes on. Will Blackshear join that select group?
“I think Shameik can be in the same mold as those guys coming out of high school,” Baxter said. “By the time he’s a senior, I think he could be talked about in the same breath as Ricky Sapp, Daquan Bowers and Jadeveon Clowney. But he’s got some work to do.”
Being the next in what is developing into a defensive end factory naturally begs the question: Can Blackshear become one of the best the Lowcountry has produced?
“In my opinion, there’s been way better players than me that could have went somewhere but they didn’t have the looks I have now thanks to Coach Cribb,” Blackshear said. “I think it’d be an honor to be one of the best players to come out of this area, because there were great players that just didn’t get the looks or have the grades.”
Battery Creek’s Greg Jones, who is still in the NFL today, and Donnell Washington may have something to say about that. So, too, would Hilton Head Island High’s Wayne Simmons and Ray Robinson. Beaufort High’s Taylor and Justin Parker, both still young, also are in the discussion.
“I think he has everything he needs to become the best player to ever come out of the Lowcountry,” Baxter said. “But Greg Jones was scary. This was a guy that worked his butt off in the weight room. He was a scary football player.”
IT’S ONLY POTENTIAL
In the last few weeks, Blackshear has added Florida and N.C. State to his offer sheet. Clemson extended an offer, too. Baxter’s prep recruiting site, SCVarsity.com, ranks him as the No. 1 in-state prospect for the 2015 class.
But potential is just that to Cribb. He wants his pupil to start showing legitimate progress.
“He was born with the size, but you have enhance it,” Cribb said. “That’s what he’s doing. He understands that. You can’t just rely on your talent. There’s a lot of that out there.”
The average high school athlete makes the most progress from their sophomore to junior year, Cribb and Carroll agree. That then raises the bar for Blackshear, who is looking to improve upon a sophomore season that saw him tally 97 tackles, 17 for loss, five sacks, 19 quarterback hurries and a game-winning blocked field goal against Fort Dorchester.
He said he wants to push his totals to 140 tackles, 15 sacks and 20 to 25 tackles for loss in 2013.
“If that young man wants to rock and roll, he needs to really have a great junior year,” Carroll said. “He’s in the rankings and all that stuff but you have to make the plays consistently against caliber-type players.”
Blackshear understands what lies ahead. The rising junior, who will turn 16 this summer, now has expectations to meet. But
“The big thing to do is enjoy it,” Cribb said. “Seize the moment, enjoy the ride.”
He plans on doing that, too. He talks about the visits he would like to take and the offers — LSU and Alabama, namely — he’d like to get.
But as he thinks about the fun times ahead, his eyes can’t help but wander back across the hall toward the Bluffton High weight room.
“(Lawing) told me, ‘You’ve got the God-given ability to go out there and dominate,’ ” he said. “ ‘But when that next level comes, you can’t just go on ability. You have to work at it to be great.’ ”
NOTABLE BEAUFORT COUNTY HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL PRODUCTS
RB/LB, Battery Creek
SuperPrep No. 12 RB nationally, No. 3 prospect in South Carolina, Rivals100.com’s No. 6 RB; Chose Florida State over Clemson, Michigan, USC, Ohio State and Tennessee; Sixth all-time at FSU in rushing yards (2,535); 2nd round draft pick, Jacksonville Jaguars (2004)
LB, Beaufort High
Ranked No. 13 in SC by Rivals.com, No. 13 MLB nationally by Scout.com, No. 7 ILB nationally by ESPN; Chose Clemson over LSU and USC; Entering redshirt junior year, has 19 career tackles in 23 games
RB, Hilton Head High
Ranked No. 10 senior in SC by SuperPrep, ranked as 25th best RB nationally; Finished N.C. State career with 3,656 yards from scrimmage, 32 total TD
LB, Hilton Head High
Four year letterman, Clemson University; 15th overall selection, Green Bay Packers (1993); Six year NFL career, Super Bowl XXXI champion
DE, Beaufort High
Three-star prospect by Rivals.com, ranked No. 21 in state; Chose USC over Virginia Tech, N.C. State, Wake Forest and Duke; Finished career with 18.5 sacks and 35 TFL
DT, Battery Creek
SuperPrep All-American, No. 22 nationally by Rivals.com, member of the Rivals100 All-American team; Attended Clemson University; 3rd round draft pick, Green Bay Packers (2004)