CLEMSON – Chew on this with your morning granola.
Clemson’s three best quarterbacks are from Virginia (Tajh Boyd), Ohio (Cole Stoudt) and New York (Chad Kelly).
Two of the three best running backs are from Alabama (D.J. Howard) and Arkansas (Zac Brooks).
The two most promising linebackers are from North Carolina (Stephone Anthony) and Florida (Tony Steward).
And the nation’s top recruit in the 2013 recruiting class, a defensive end from Georgia, committed to Clemson in June.
For more than a generation, Clemson has been a major player in college football recruiting, and coach Dabo Swinney’s staff has tried to take it to another plane. In his first four years as head coach, Swinney’s recruiting classes were ranked 19, 19, 8 and 10 by ESPN.com.
With 17 commitments including Robert Nkemdiche of Loganville, Ga., for 2013, Clemson stood at No. 11. The class includes a linebacker from Maryland, a defensive end from Indiana, a defensive tackle from Hawaii and the solid foundation of prospects from Georgia, Florida and South Carolina.
“We have a footprint here that we believe in,” said Swinney, ticking off the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida, Virginia, Tennessee and Maryland.
“It’s our home base, and we’re going to comb it pretty strong, we’re going to spot recruit everywhere else,” he said. “We’re going to recruit the best players in the country and give them the opportunity to say ‘I’m not interested,’ because we think we’re as good a product as anybody out there.”
South Carolina typically doesn’t produce enough high-end talent to support two nationally prominent programs, and Clemson’s recruiting success the past several years has been achieved in lock step with its state rival in Columbia also pushing the top programs for the best players.
“Once we evaluate guys and once we determine that these are the best guys at a position, we’re going to give some of those guys outside the primary area an opportunity,” Swinney said. “If we get them on campus, we’re going to go from there.”
Swinney always likes his chances when he can introduce Clemson to a prospect and his parents. It’s been a successful dynamic in signing Travis Blanks, a safety from Tallahassee, Fla., ranked No. 15 overall by ESPN in this year’s freshman class; Steward (No. 9) and Anthony (No. 32) in 2011; and Boyd, co-MVP of the U.S. Army All-American game in 2009.
Also in 2011, Clemson signed three of the top five wide receivers in the nation as rated by ESPN.com. Sammy Watkins, a freshman All-American, was the the No. 5 wide receiver in the nation as a high school senior, behind Tiger teammates Charone Peake (No. 2) and Martavis Bryant (No. 3)
The connection can come in a variety of ways. Maintaining relationships with high school coaches are critical, particularly at home and in the “footprint” locations such as North Carolina, Florida and Georgia. Georgia had been a fallow field for Clemson for several years when Swinney sent his coaches back into the state. Landing Nkemdiche was aided by the fact that his coach at Loganville was Swinney’s roommate at Alabama.
“It’s all about relationships, and every coach has a tree,” Swinney said. “When you have good relationships and a good reputation for how you treat your players and how you develop them, it opens other doors.”
Clemson expanded its reach with the hiring of offensive coordinator Chad Morris, a successful high school coach in Texas, and defensive coordinator Brent Venables, who earned his stripes as a recruiter in the Big 12 at Oklahoma.
“We’re not going to be inefficient and waste a lot of time and money on wild goose chases,” Swinney said. “We know you can take a 400-mile radius right from here and there are a lot of good football players.
“So if we miss on a guy, we want to miss on one from around this area that knows Clemson and understands it.”