Clemson has finished higher than South Carolina in recruiting each of the past five years according to ESPN, Rivals and 247Sports. High school coaches around the state say it’s easy to see why.
Several head coaches from different parts of the state – some with top prospects who were recruited by both Clemson and USC – spoke to The State recently and all of them said the Tigers are on a different level in terms of recruiting and building relationships with coaches and prospects.
“Dabo (Swinney) is just so personable. He doesn’t act like I’m way up here and y’all are just little high school coaches. They bend over backwards to do stuff for you all the time,” said one longtime coach who has had players attend both schools. “You can call them up and they’ll let you come watch film, come watch practice, you can get involved in practice. At Carolina it just seems like it’s a lot different.”
Another coach added that the Clemson coaching staff is better about getting out and visiting schools and prospects.
“I think Clemson has more of a high school type friendly atmosphere where they like to come on campus. They like to spend time with coaches, the players, not just the head coach but the assistant coaches,” he said. “The University of South Carolina is the opposite in that there isn’t a lot of contact between the coaches and the school. I think they do a good job of recruiting, but I think they go straight to the kid. They skip that high school relationship.”
One advantage Clemson has appears to be assistant coach Jeff Scott. The co-offensive coordinator arrived at Clemson in 2008 with a background in high school coaching. He took over as Clemson’s recruiting coordinator in December 2008 and in his first season in charge the Tigers put together a top 10 class.
“Jeff Scott is as good as gold. That guy’s been a high school coach as an assistant. He won a state championship as a head coach. He’s paid his dues, and now he’s a co-coordinator for the No. 1 team in the country,” said another high school coach who has had several top prospects. “You could call or text him right now, and within a minute he would respond. He’s spot on when it comes to high school recruiting.”
Several high school coaches pointed out the differences in the recruiting approaches of Swinney and his staff and former USC head coach Steve Spurrier and his recruiting coordinator, Steve Spurrier Jr.
“I think Spurrier was just a different kind of recruiter,” one coach said. “Dabo is kind of an up-and-coming head coach who is building that program, and I think he knows he’s got to sell himself to the coaches in South Carolina, which he has.”
Another coach said: “I think guys of Spurrier’s stature, he proved himself at Duke and Florida and came to South Carolina, I think he was recruiting on his name. I’m sure they work hard, don’t get me wrong, it was just a totally different type of recruiting process.”
Coaches agreed that Ellis Johnson did a great job of recruiting when he was at South Carolina.
“He had coached high school football. He knew the ropes. He knew what you had to do,” one said.
Another added that Lorenzo Ward is a solid recruiter, and USC Director of Recruiting Operations Robbie Liles was mentioned as someone who does a great job.
The recruiting acumen of USC quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus was praised, although many of his recruiting duties are out of state.
One coach said interim head coach Shawn Elliott is aware of what needs to change and is committed to doing it, if he gets the chance.
The perception is that the Tigers have been focusing more on out of state prospects, and while Clemson has had success drawing players from Florida and Georgia, some of the Tigers’ top contributors are from the state of South Carolina.
Four of Clemson’s top five tacklers are in-state players, including starting defensive ends Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd. The two have combined for 30.5 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks.
The Tigers have also recruited well on offense. Charone Peake is second on the team in receptions, yards and touchdowns and Mike Williams was expected to be the go-to receiver before being injured in Clemson’s opener.
Both USC and Clemson have seven starters from the state of South Carolina, but Clemson’s have been more productive over the course of their careers.
While both programs have passed on players who are now performing well elsewhere, Clemson more times than not has hit on prospects it preferred to in-state prospects.
For example, Quinshad Davis went from Gaffney to North Carolina after USC and Clemson passed. He set the school record for touchdowns and receptions at UNC.
In that receiver class USC took Jody Fuller, Kwinton Smith and Shaq Roland. None are currently playing at USC. In the same class Clemson took one receiver, Germone Hopper, who has been productive with the Tigers. Clemson already had Sammy Watkins, Charone Peake, Martavis Bryant, Adam Humphries and Nuk Hopkins on campus at the time of Davis’ recruitment.
Clemson and USC also did not recruit Mason Rudolph heavily. The sophomore quarterback at Oklahoma State has led the Cowboys to a 10-1 record.
South Carolina took Michael Scarnecchia in that class, who has thrown one pass at USC. Carolina’s instability at quarterback has contributed to its 3-8 record. Clemson, meanwhile, went from All-ACC performer Tajh Boyd to current Heisman Trophy candidate Deshaun Watson.
“It blows my mind some of these kids that are playing in-state that are never offered, or they’re offered two days before Signing Day,” said one coach. “If you haven’t been recruiting me why am I going to go to your school when you just call me up at the last second?”