On Jan. 26, 2016, Will Muschamp, Bryan McClendon and Shawn Elliot trekked to western Tennessee to recruit a promising and projectable offensive lineman. South Carolina’s coaching trio — 50 days into Muschamp’s tenure as head coach — was excited to meet the Huntingdon High School prospect, a player SC’s previous coach, Steve Spurrier, had offered a scholarship.

But there was one problem: the coaches couldn’t find Sadarius Hutcherson when they arrived.

“They’ve got a Future Farmers of America there, so he was in the back chasing chickens in the barn,” Muschamp recalled Tuesday. “We had to walk like a mile and a half up a dirt road to find the guy. I don’t know if it was for class or something. I guess they had to [catch chickens] and put them in a cage. I don’t know.”

“They were out behind the fieldhouse working on the farm. I can’t remember if we had hogs back then or cows,” Huntingdon head coach Eric Swenson told Spurs & Feathers in a phone conversation Tuesday. “It could have been chickens. We’ve got goats and everything else. So Sadarius was up there at the barn working.

“I remember [the coaches] thought that was kind of funny. They probably hadn’t had too many recruits out working with chickens.”

But the journey to Tennessee and the back barn was worth it.

Muschamp found Hutcherson, convinced him to come to Columbia, S.C. and, with his staff, has groomed him into a 6-4, 320-pound potential NFL Draft pick. The fourth-team All-SEC selection by Athlon, Hutcherson started games at guard his redshirt-freshman and sophomore seasons before bumping to left tackle this season.

Hutcherson — a leader on the South Carolina offensive line that ranks fifth in the SEC in rushing yards per game — will return to his home state when the Gamecocks (3-4, 2-3 SEC) take on Tennessee (2-5, 1-3 SEC) on Saturday at 4 p.m. at Neyland Stadium.

“Every Saturday he’s on TV, every eye out here is watching him,” said Swenson, who will make the 300-mile drive with an assistant coach and their wives to watch the Gamecocks and Volunteers.

“He’s just a really humble kid. To me, it’s one of the greatest success stories around here that I know of. … We just want to see him do well. We hope he goes pro. I don’t think there’s any doubt he can. That would be an amazing story.

“They might let him lead the Christmas parade here if he does.”

But, as Muschamp said Tuesday, Hutcherson was a raw prospect South Carolina took a chance on. After all, Hutcherson did not play middle school football and played for a rural high school.

“He just kind of flew under the radar,” Swenson said. “At his height and with his feet, you could tell he had really good speed for a big man. Speed is God-given, so we knew that he was going to have a shot to play somewhere.

“[But] we didn’t think it was going to be Division I.”

That was until Middle Tennessee came calling during Hutcherson’s junior season. Illinois, Mississippi State and Western Carolina followed, and even Tennessee gave him a look (but didn’t offer). But several schools were hesitant to offer because the level of competition the Mustangs faced.

“If this kid was in Georgia somewhere, in a big area, or in Murfreesboro [Tenn.], he’d have ten D-I offers right now,” a college coach told Swenson.

Muschamp and Elliot, then South Carolina’s offensive line coach, believed the Gamecocks needed to get “more athletic” within the position group, and they liked Hutcherson’s lower-body flexibility and versatility (he played both offensive and defensive line in high school).

“He was a guy that, athletically, jumped out to you on tape. His feet, his athleticism, was just extremely impressive,” Muschamp said. “And that’s the thing you see, his balance. And then you’ve got to project.

“You see Sadarius, he’s got wide shoulders. He’s got 10-inch hands. He’s got long arms. I think, his arms, he’s got 34 or 35 [-inch arms]. We feel like he had the frame to continue to grow.”

Muschamp pointed to a 247Sports article that found, of the 87 offensive linemen taken in the first three rounds of the last five NFL Drafts, only 21 were 300 pounds or more in high school. Only seven were 330 pounds or more and two were 350 pounds.

Hutcherson was between 230-250 pounds as a high school senior.

“Certainly we took a reach with him, a little bit,” Muschamp admitted. “Certainly we’ve benefitted from that, because he’s come in and bought in on the nutrition end of it.”

“Is he a tight end?” several players asked Muschamp when Hutcherson came on his official visit.

Donell Stanley hosted Hutcherson that visit and remembers being caught off guard when Hutcherson arrived. “This can’t be him,” Stanley thought to himself.

“He was so skinny,” Stanley said Tuesday. “… It was wild.”

“[But] you could tell he wasn’t done growing,” Swenson said. “He was just a big kid. He was skinny but tall. Gradually he got taller and filled out.

“When he went down and visited South Carolina he saw how big the guys were. He came back that next week on Monday and proceeded to carry around peanut butter and jelly and a loaf of bread. He would eat in-between classes and worked out twice a day.

“He caught fire. He immediately started growing.”

Hutcherson shot up to 270-275 pounds and “got strong as a bull,” Swenson said. “He had the genetics and work ethic. All he needed was the calories.”

“I just went to work,” Hutcherson said. “Right now I eat regular, at least three times a day, but when I was trying to gain weight, I had to eat six.”

“He eats a ton,” Stanley said. “You should see how much he eats.”

Now Hutcherson is hands down the strongest player on the team. He can bench press 225 pounds 38 times and once squatted 638 pounds.

“It’s kind of like football, you know? When you see good results, you start falling in love with it,” he said. “When you start looking yourself in the mirror and you start falling in love with yourself, then it takes off from there.”

His on-field play has taken off as well.

“Sadarius Hutcherson is solid as heck,” SC offensive line back Eric Wolford said in August.

“Going up against him in practice sets me up for success on game day,” Gamecock defensive end D.J. Wonnum said. “Going up against his strength and his feet sets me up for success.”

But this week especially, going back to his home state, and in the future beyond, Hutcherson has high expectations of himself.

“I’ve played pretty well, but I can be better,” he said. “There is always room to improve.”