Casting a 5,000-mile wide net reaching from the streets of Brooklyn to the bucolic splendor of Hawaii, Clemson assembled a class of 23 players — ranked 13th by ESPN — that Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said fulfilled the needs of an ambitious program he promised wasn’t going away.
“We more than met our needs with this class,” he said. “This is a group that joins a very talented team, and I don’t have any doubt that’s going to help us build the competitive depth we need to compete at the highest level.”
Off an 11-2 season that included a stunning win against LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, Clemson began Wednesday with 18 public commitments and finished in a sprint by signing corner MacKensie Alexander of Immokalee, Fla., ESPN’s No. 4 player.
The class was dominated by defense with eight of 15 pegged for the secondary, seven for offense (but not quarterback) and one — T.J. Green of Sylacauga, Ala. — who could play either.
Defensive secondary was most critical after last season, when injury and attrition forced receiver Adam Humphries into double duty.
“We just got thin,” Swinney said, “If there was one huge need on the team it was definitely in the secondary.”
Next priority, he said, was running back, where three scholarship players return after the loss of Andre Ellington, the school’s No. 4 all-time rusher, to graduation. Georgia backs Tyshon Dye of Elberton and Wayne Gallman of Logansville, tough, blue-collar prospects by Swinney’s description, could immediately enter the mix for playing time.
Swinney saw an opportunity to layer talent at defensive end, where Clemson lost senior Malliciah Goodman. Clemson signed Ebenezer Ogundeko of Brooklyn, N.Y., Dane Rogers Jr., of Shelby, N.C., and Shaq Lawson, another hometown prospect from Daniel High.
Landing Ogundeko and Lawson, both enrolled in January, and a class that included defensive tackle Scott Pagano of Honolulu eased the sting of losing defense ends Robert Nkemdiche and Carl Lawson and defensive tackle Montravus Adams.
Lawson and Adams kept Clemson on a string until they signed with Auburn. Nkemdiche, a high school teammate of Gallman’s and ESPN’s top prospect, withdrew his commitment last November at his mother’s insistence and joined his brother at Ole Miss.
Swinney dismissed discussion of the others, though in an allusion to his relationship with Ogundeko and Nkemdiche he said, “I’m batting .500 with Nigerian mamas,” and focused on a second straight top-15 class.
“That mentality is like waking up at Christmas and having a lot of nice presents, and then going ‘is this all I got?’ ” he said. “We are ridiculously blessed here at Clemson. I don’t spend any time worrying about those we don’t get.
“There a difference between need and greed. And sometimes we all get a little greedy.”
Clemson signed two of the three players sitting on the fence, including Alexander, comparable to Sammy Watkins from a couple years ago.
“We’ve raised the bar,” he said. “We’re going to continue to do that, continue to recruit the best player. Listen, we’re beyond the point where people are surprised when we sign a great player or a great class
“It’s been quite a journey over the last four years getting us to where we want to be, but we’re certainly at a point now where we can request the best of the best,” he said. “I know there’s a lot of people that wish we’d go away.
“But we’re not going anywhere.”