Family the tipping point to South Carolina for Brandon McIlwain

NEWTOWN — Council Rock North’s Brandon McIlwain might just be the most highly touted high school recruit coming out of Bucks County next year. According to 247Sports Composite rankings, he’s a four-star recruit and the nation’s No. 4 dual-threat quarterback in the 2016 class.

The starting quarterback for the Indians for the past three seasons, McIlwain had more than 25 Division I colleges in the race for his signature. While Brandon narrowed his short list down to four schools — South Carolina, Penn State, Auburn and Cal-Berkley, USC had one component the other three could not compete with.

McIlvain has family in both Irmo and Greenville, S.C., both commutable drives to the South Carolina campus.

“Family is huge for me and it’s very important,’ said McIlwain, whose father also went to USC. “When I got the opportunity to play football at this amazing school in a place that I love to be around, the opportunity to be near both sides of my family, it definitely made a difference.’

After passing for over 2,000 yards and 17 touchdowns and rushing for another 1,065 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2014, McIlwain wanted to get his commitment out of the way before the end of the year.

He committed to USC on Dec. 31.

Brandon wanted to make his intentions known in time for the Army All-American Combine held Jan. 1-3 in San Antonio. Held in conjunction with the US Army All-American Bowl, the combine gives high school footballers the chance to demonstrate their skills before the top college scouts in the country.

“I thought that would be a good place to spread the word,’ said Brandon. “I thought that would be a good place to help my school — a chance to talk to a lot of top prospects in the country about South Carolina.’

McIlwain believes his skill-set is the perfect fit for the Gamecocks’ offense. Quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus — who recruited McIlwain — has compared Brandon to former USC great Connor Shaw, the winningest quarterback in school history.

“He was a great quarterback and threw the ball extremely well and also ran the ball at a high level.

“I can definitely see myself playing in this offense and being successful.’

Some prognosticators surmised that McIlwain may have picked South Carolina over Penn State because the Nittany Lion’ recently inked 2016 commit Jake Zembiec, of Rochester. Around the same time, PSU also inked a dual threat QB in Tommy Stevens, a 2015 commit from Indianapolis. In total, the Lions have five quarterbacks on scholarship.

But Brandon begged to differ on that count.

“Penn State said from the beginning that they were going to take two quarterbacks so that had no effect on my decision at all,’ he said. “I know there’s going to be competition wherever I go.’

True that.

Mangus believes in McIlwain and USC was the first school to offer Brandon, extending a scholarship last February. Penn State offered McIlwain nine days later and hosted him in Happy Valley several times, most recently at the Lions’ season-ending loss to Michigan State.

While the quarterback position for the Gamecocks is wide open, there’s plenty of competition already lined up ahead of McIlwain at USC. While Dylan Thompson has used up his eligibility, that gives way to redshirt-sophomore Connor Mitch, redshirt-junior Perry Orth and redshirt-freshman Michael Scarnecchia. What’s more, Lorenzo Nunez, a dual-threat QB out of Kennesaw, Georgia, committed to the Gamecocks last May.

“I know that I’m going to be the best player and that I’m going to do everything I can to prove that and win this job.’

After taking summer classes at Bucks County Community College, McIlwain is eligible for early graduation. He plans to enroll at USC next January.

But first, he has one more baseball season remaining with the Indians and one more football season left at the Rock.

The North baseball team made it to states his freshman year, so “that’s another big goal this year,’ he says.

“Making states and getting to the state championship — especially in my last year, that would be an amazing experience.

“We have a lot of great players and we definitely believe that we can.’

McIlwain hasn’t ruled out baseball in college though he admits football is top priority. He led his varsity football team to a 6-4 record last year and it’s second consecutive District 1 playoff berth, the first time in CR North history.

“We want to continue to build on that — build on the momentum that we had this year. We want to win our league, we want a home playoff game and beat our rivals Council Rock South.’

While they didn’t make the postseason, the Golden Hawks stunned the Indians with a 40-29 CR South victory, a game in which senior Vince Alimenti and junior Brendan Patterson tallied three touchdowns, each.

While Alimenti won’t be there, Brandon gets one last crack at the Golden Hawks in 2015.

Then, it’s on to the Gamecocks who finished their last campaign with their seventh consecutive winning season, tying a school record set in 1934. They also defeated Miami 24-21 in the Independence Bowl for their fourth straight bowl victory.

Sounds like Brandon will have plenty to build on when he arrives in Columbia a year from now.

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