Napier Steps Up

As a young defensive graduate assistant with the Clemson football team in 2004, Billy Napier was never given very many coach-like duties. In fact, he and his fellow graduate assistants were gophers and handled much of the mundane duties.

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But for three weeks, two in December and one in January, Napier was every bit as important to the success of the Tigers as any of the full-time assistant coaches.

When Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden fired his offensive and defensive coordinators, as well as a defensive backfield coach, his staff was severely depleted. And the worst part was that it was right in the middle of the hot and heavy recruiting season.

In addition, defensive line coach Ron West was out of commission due to hernia surgery. That's when Bowden and Tigers recruiting coordinator David Blackwell approached Napier and told him they needed his help.

A guy who was on the same level or slightly below as the trainers and the equipment manager was now being asked to hit the road and cover the would-be recruiting duties of the three fired coaches and West.

"His personality is one where you could see he'd do very well," West said of Napier. "We had started something good and we just needed him to keep it going."

No problem.

"Clemson is an easy sell," Napier, 25 at the time, said. "You go in knowing what drives each kid. It's really a matter of being personable with each kid and making them feel comfortable."

Coming out of Murray County High School in Georgia, Napier wasn't recruited by the big-time colleges. But he ultimately went to Furman, where as quarterback he led the Paladins to the Division I-AA title game in 2001. He was two-time All-Southern Conference quarterback and broke the school's single-season record for passing yards (2,475) and completion percentage (68.5), which is also the conference record.

All this means that Napier is used to being successful and being able to accomplish tasks given to him. Going up against the likes of full-time assistants from Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee and North Carolina? Piece of cake.

"If you're going to get in this business, it's part of the business and you have to be good at that," Napier said. "It was good experience and hopefully it'll help me get a job in the future."

To make the situation as easy as possible on him, Blackwell gave him the job of keeping visiting players that were already verbally committed to Clemson. Napier's duty was to make sure the nine players he was responsible for didn't sway or think about going somewhere else.

"I was excited that they gave me a chance to do it and that they trust me enough to do it," Napier said. "I learned a lot of things. There's a lot of paperwork and travel and you have to be efficient with your time."

Napier's typical day during those that time would start at 6 a.m. and would continue for another 15 or so hours. This went on for three weeks.

"A lot of these guys, I don't know how they do it with their families," Napier said. "You're on the road all the time. And if you're not, you're in the office. Then you wake up the next day and do it all over again."

West eventually regained his health and Bowden hired three new coaches to fill all the vacancies. And with that, Napier's time as a recruiter had come to an end.

And the coaching staff, including the Bowden himself, couldn't have been happier with Napier's performance and results.

"He's way beyond his years," Bowden said. "He's going to be an excellent college coach someday and I hope he's going to be around here for a long while."

When asked about his recruiting job, Napier just shrugs his shoulders as though it's no big deal. He fully expected to do well.

"It's just another competitive part of the program," he said. "The majority of this game comes down to players. Talent wins games and this is how you get the players in the program."

As for one day making a good college coach, that is Napier's ultimate goal. But he knows it could be a year or two away before he gets his chance. Then again, it could happen tomorrow.

"A lot of people would love to have the job I've got right now," Napier said. "I'm just going to be patient and keep working hard and things will work out."

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