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Numbers crunch roster hopefuls

The only good news about senior Jake Williams not making the final roster is head coach Ray Tanner had one fewer cut to make. There were 37 players still on the preseason squad and Tanner had to get his roster down to 34. He sat down with the unfortunate few who didn’t make the roster on Wednesday night but he had one fewer conversation that he thought.

Freshman Ahmad Christian rounds third base after hitting a home run off All-American Matt Price in one of the preseason scrimmages.

Williams, a walk-on after transferring from Wofford after the 2009 season, didn’t affect the final number when he didn’t make the final roster due to “personal issues.” What it did was open up another spot.

There were still two, however, that needed to be cut. Tanner sat down on Wednesday with utility player Ahmad Christian and right-handed pitcher Thomas Little to deliver the bad news.

Both will be part of what Tanner has termed in the past as a “developmental squad”, which consists of the players that made it through the end of practice but didn’t make the final roster.

Those players are allowed to do everything except for practice with the team. If the team is on the field, the developmental squad can be in the weight room, and vice versa. Players like Christian and Little, who will be joined by redshirting freshmen Alex Satterfield and Rob DeCosmo, catcher Brent Worsham, and RHP Josh Knab, can work individual with coaches, but just can’t be in the team environment.

Cutting is a necessary evil for Tanner and his staff, which actively recruits walk-on players promising them an opportunity to make the team, but not a spot on the squad.

“It was not easy getting there,” Tanner said. “I know some schools have a lot smaller rosters than we do, but our approach is, we get the best guys we can get. We put together the best team we can. It doesn’t matter if you’re a walk-on guy or scholarship guy.”

South Carolina has enjoyed a lot of success with its walk-on program. The NCAA began to limit roster sizes and scholarship limits - both in maximum numbers of players and minimum number of percent of tuition paid - which has caused a strain on some coaches.

Gone are the days of bringing in players on “book money”, or a small scholarship with the ability to earn more. Now, players come in on at least 25 percent. The coaches have guaranteed some walk-ons a spot on the team, but that’s atypical.

Recent walk-ons include players like John Taylor and Brady Thomas, who both played a key part in the 2011 national championship team. Thomas was there in 2010, too, along with Jay Brown and Nick Ebert as non-scholarship players.

“We put a lot of emphasis on non-scholarship guys in this program,” Tanner said. “We’ve had some good players who are non-scholarship guys. We recruit them like they are scholarship guys. It’s a big deal to us. We feel like there are some players here that could play at other schools that may not be on this roster.”

The walk-ons are important, which is why even the players who didn’t make the team are invited to stay around as part of the developmental squad to practice and be around the program.

“It’s a little bit of a quirky rule, but that’s what it is,” Tanner said.

Satterfield and DeCosmo were both players who signed scholarship papers, but agreed to postpone receiving aid until their injuries healed and were able to become an active part of the roster.

Knab, an incoming transfer, has one of the best fastballs on the team, but has some work in the classroom to do before he is eligible to play at the Division I level. The players will stick around and will give it another shot next season.

Tanner said that Williams will also be a part of the squad, even though he’s scheduled to graduate this spring. This will be Williams’ fifth season out of high school and he has exhausted his eligibility.

Tanner said that Williams could apply for a sixth year of eligibility through the NCAA. That, however, seems like it would be very unlikely to be granted.

South Carolina opens the 2012 season on Friday at 3 p.m. at Carolina Stadium against VMI. Pre-game festivities honor the 2011 national championship team will begin at approximately 2:45 p.m.


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