What would you say if LeRoy Hill and Gaffney star Rocky McIntosh lined up side by side to start the 2004 season?
Although this isn't a reality, today we will look at what it will take for us to see the state of South Carolina's top talent dressed in orange in this segment, "Locking down the Borders."
The Model Programs
Getting a Peach State gem away from Georgia's Mark Richt has not been an easy task in recent years. Mack Brown has been able to secure Texas's top talent since his arrival. LSU's Nick Saban lands Louisiana's best year in and year out. If you go head to head with the big three in Florida for a top in state talent, you're usually going to lose.
And even recently, Pete Carroll has found the recipe to keep California's blue chippers at home.
Saban, Richt, and Brown recently have been able to do what Bowden, Spurrier and Howard Schlenburger have done in the past to start their powerful programs. They've kept the in-state guys in state.
"Cherry Picking" the State's Top Talent
The state of Georgia has anywhere from 60-to-80 Division I signees coming from the high school ranks each year. That's plenty of talent for Mark Richt to sift through in getting together a talented class. What Richt has done since his arrival at Georgia taken the top talent in the state while stealing some of the surrounding states' blue chippers.
Richt's "cherry picking" tactics in which he picks and chooses the best talent in the state of Georgia has led the Bulldogs to one of the nation's top programs.
Although the state of South Carolina only produces 20-30 Division I athletes in a given year, the cherry picking tactics used by the top programs in Texas, Florida and Georgia still can be used by coach Tommy Bowden to build a national program at Clemson.
With an overflow of talent in near by states of Georgia, and Florida (who can have nearly 200 division I signees in one year) there is plenty of top-notch talent even after the in state teams finish filling their needs. The key is to combine the talent taken from these neighboring states with the top talent in South Carolina. In order to become a national power, Clemson needs to be able to keep a majority of the state's top 10 recruits, which are primarily the national recruits, within the state's borders.
It would be insane to think Clemson could annually nab 8-to-10 players out of the state's top 10. The Gamecocks will continue to get 2-3 out of the group each year simply because of alliances made at birth. It would also be improbable to think that at least 2-3 of the top 10 will not seek to play outside of the state's boarders.
However, in order to be a national power, the Tigers need to be receiving signatures from at least 50% of the state's top 10. Although this seems quite simple, it would be a great improvement from what we've seen in recent years.
In 2004, although some would disagree, the state's top 10 consisted of (in no particular order) Leon Hart, Lawrence Timmons, Robert Ayers, Cory Lambert, James Thompson, Michael Hamlin, Mack Frost, CJ Barber, Matt Raysor, and Dorrel Scott.
Clemson signed 3 (Lambert, Hamlin, and Scott).
Results in 2003 weren't much better. Marion Dukes, Maurice Nelson and Tramaine Billie were the only signees out of a top 10 that consisted of Eric Young, Tony McDaniel, Demetrius Summers, Syvelle Newton, Noah Whitesides, Marion Dukes, Marcus Howard, Maurice Nelson, Tramaine Billie, and Rodney Kinlaw.
Could it be that when coach Tommy Bowden says he is 2-3 players away from a BCS bowl that some of these names are on his mind? Perhaps.
Three Big Keys
The biggest key to wrapping up the state's top recruits is winning. Clemson's successful 2000 campaign on the field paid big dividends with the in-state classes in 2001 and 2002. And of course, these two classes have been instrumental in the recent turnaround that happened at the end of 2003, and is expected to continue into the 2004 season.
The second biggest key is, of course, facilities. Many players base the commitment of the school to football on its facilities. That's why schools like NC State and Virginia can be considered "football schools" despite their apparent lack of history and tradition. Many in-state players have been lost recently to facilities.
The third key is high school coach support. A recruit's high school coach plays a big decision in his player's decision. It is not a coincidence when a majority of one school's players go out of state while another has a reputation of sending its players to the in state institutions. High school coaches should take it upon themselves to make players aware of the benefits of representing the state of South Carolina, going to a school with a familiar culture and being close to supporters like family and close friends.
Well on the Way
Why are we talking about this right now in June? Because the 2004 season could go very far in determining whether or not Clemson is able to compete on the national level for years to come. Ground will be broken on the West Endzone project this year, and another winning season combined with a bowl win could set Clemson up well to "cherry pick" the state's top recruits.
Already the return is good following the 2003 season.
Many top in-state recruits have been receptive to the Clemson coaches thus far, and with a commitment from a top in state lineman Barry Humphries who Insider's guru Miller Safrit tabbed as "the state's top linemen", the Tigers could be well on their way to reaching the goal of 50% or more of the state's top recruits.
Locking Down the Borders
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