South Carolina football: Keenan Nelson Jr. USC update

Keenan Nelson Jr. is the second-highest-rated rookie in South Carolina's Class of 2022, according to 247Sports.  He got to see playing time early in his career at Columbia.

Keenan Nelson Jr. is the second-highest-rated rookie in South Carolina’s Class of 2022, according to 247Sports. He got to see playing time early in his career at Columbia.


Keenan Nelson traveled to San Antonio for the Adidas All-American Bowl hoping to encounter the best competition the 2022 recruiting class had to offer.

He never left the hotel room.

Nelson, who was diagnosed with COVID-19 upon arrival, was locked in quarantine for the week after a test came back positive.

“I had to stay in the hotel room the whole time,” he said darkly.

Now back in Philadelphia, Nelson is past a week of lost stars and looks to his next steps in South Carolina.

Rated a four-star rookie and No. 219 player in the 2022 class by the 247Sports Composite, Nelson is the second-highest-ranked player in head coach Shane Beamer’s first signing class. It brings expectations with it.

Listed at 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, he brings needed versatility to the South Carolina secondary. Part of that comes from his background — Nelson started high school as a catcher before converting to full-time defensive back.

As a senior, he saw time on both offense and defense, helping St. Joseph’s Prep to an 11-3 record and an appearance in the 6A state title game.

“Keenan was a (guy) who came from a great program at St. Joseph’s in Philadelphia who could have gone to a lot of places,” Beamer said in December. “But (he) came here with this mum and dad, visited in the summer on one of the official visits in June (and) had a fantastic time.”

South Carolina has made a conscious effort to recruit from the Mid Atlantic in the 2022, 2023 and 2024 classes since hiring Beamer in December 2020. Nelson is one of three players – along with the three-star offensive lineman Ryan Brubaker (Pennsylvania) and three-star quarterback Braden Davis (Delaware) — to sign with area USC this cycle.

Between the 2023 and 2024 classes, the Gamecocks also offered 35 players from Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Washington, D.C. Comparatively, only 11 players from South Carolina received offers from those groups on Thursday, according to 247Sports.

“They’ve recruited guys from New Jersey and Virginia in the past (and) a couple here and there from Maryland and Delaware,” Rivals Adam Friedman, National Recruitment Analyst/Director of Rankings, told The State in June. “There are a lot of great players here and not too many great programs. South Carolina has a chance to really attract some of these great players to the South.

Nelson heads to South Carolina in a position of need ahead of the 2022 season. Gone is All-American safety Jaylan Foster. The Gamecocks will also have to fill the slots behind cornerbacks Cam Smith, Darius Rush and Marcellas Dial.

Enter the Class of 2022.

The Gamecocks have emphasized defense during Beamer’s first full cycle as head coach — 14 of their 22 high school signings project themselves as defenders to the next level.

Nelson is a piece of the puzzle. The same goes for three-star safeties Anthony Rose, Peyton Williams, Emory Floyd, Kajuan Banks. Irmo’s standout Nick Emmanwori is listed as a safety, although he could move into linebacker. South Carolina also landed Michigan center Devonni Reed, who should immediately fill the void left by Foster.

“(I) move fast, I certainly don’t slow down for nothing,” Nelson said of how he would characterize the game he brings to Columbia. “(I’m) a fast player who wants to do tackles and stuff.”

Nelson plans to join the Gamecocks this summer. His final months of high school will include the usual graduation parties and celebrations sandwiched between workouts that he hopes will prepare him for his first offseason at USC.

Beamer – who was returning from Georgia when and was approaching Lexington when Nelson called him to commit – joked he was nearly shipwrecked he was so excited about the news.

The Philadelphia native never had a chance against the nation’s best in San Antonio. Starting this fall, he’s one of a handful of freshmen who could see the field early against Southeastern Conference competition.

This time there will be no waiting in a hotel room.

Ben Portnoy is the football beat writer for the in-state South Carolina Gamecocks. He is a five-time winner of the Associated Press Sports Editors Award and has been recognized by the Mississippi Press Association and the National Sports Media Association. Portnoy previously covered Mississippi State for the Columbus Commercial Dispatch and Indiana football for the Journal Gazette in Ft. Wayne, Indiana.

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