Signing day for the Clemson coaching staff was much like finishing a marathon with nobody in sight.
“We really didn’t have any drama,” said Coach Dabo Swinney. “I love no drama.”
With all the horses in the barn by lunch, Swinney could begin looking at the prospects of spring and beyond. When he turned the staff loose with recruiting assignments after the Orange Bowl victory, much of the focus was on the class of 2015.
Many of the key components for this class of 23 — including a former pro baseball player who decided to try football four years after high school — were assembled over more than three years, the first being quarterback DeShaun Watson, probably the highest regarded quarterback since Steve Fuller nearly 40 years ago.
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Clemson’s class was ranked as high as No. 12 by the national recruiting services, though there wasn’t a consensus with one rating it No. 28. That didn’t seem to trouble Swinney.
“I’m excited about this class and the potential of this class, but I’m more excited about their character,” Swinney said. “We are bringing a lot of character into this program.
“We’re recruiting at the highest level and competing at the highest level.”
Nine came from South Carolina high schools, five from Georgia and four from North Carolina, states Swinney considers home or “instate.” Four of the Georgians were among the 15 highest rated players in the state.
Comprising the class are a kicker, nine defensive players and 12 on offense. That includes four running backs and four receivers — both immediate critical needs with the loss of record-setting quarterback Tajh Boyd and All-America receiver Sammy Watkins.
“We more than met our needs,” Swinney said. “They provide us the competitive depth we need to compete at the highest level.”
Not included are the retention of juniors Stephone Anthony, Vic Beasley and Corey Crawford who chose to return rather than joining Watkins and Martavis Bryant in the NFL draft a year early.
Players begin winter conditioning next week with the six members of this class that enrolled in January including Watson and 21-year-old Kurt Fleming who gave up a pro baseball career after three years to play football again.
Fleming, a native of Richmond, Va., and former outfielder in the Atlanta Braves organization, will begin at running back, “and we’ll go from there,” recruiting coordinator Jeff Scott said.
Spring practice begins March 5, and the spring game has been scheduled for April 12.
Swinney said he wanted to “push” the spring game, to simulate a game environment and gauge the progress of players at several positions — especially quarterback.
Watson, who holds the Georgia high school records for passing and total offense, will be thrust into competition with senior Cole Stoudt and sophomore Chad Kelly. Swinney described Watson as “an elite talent and an elite person with a great work ethic.”
Next year’s class should be heavy on offensive tackles and defensive linemen, Swinney said, in addition to two quarterbacks.
Back-to-back 11-win seasons and consecutive bowl victories over LSU and Ohio State are helping the team’s profile. “Our brand is really, really right now,” Swinney said. “That’s the result of a lot of success.”
And, as a result, there’s no time for the weary.
Swinney said the staff was calling potential prospects for the class of 2016.
“It never stops.”