In the first of a two-part series, we will take a look at the things the new Tiger regime should continue to keep Clemson recruiting among the nation's best.
1) The WestZone Initiative: When talking about things that the Bowden Era did right, it begins and ends with the revamping of the West End Zone. A massive statement of recommitment to the football program, the WEZ saw Clemson take a gargantuan step forward in terms of facility quality. The Tigers had been flagging in that department, possessing some of the worst facilities in the ACC. A facelift to beloved Death Valley, an improvement of offices for the staff, an enrichment of the tradition and history of the program, an upgrade in the weight room: the WEZ will likely go down as Tommy Bowden's greatest accomplishment at Clemson. Not coincidentally, the Orange and Purple began reaping the benefits in the recruiting arena simultaneously with the construction's groundbreaking.
Spearheading the initial recruiting charge was one James Davis, arguably Clemson's most beloved player in recent memory. Since that time, Clemson has enjoyed national recruiting class rankings by Scout.com of 21, 22, 23, 11, and 42 (Average of 23.8) after being ranked 28, 43, and 40 (Average of 37) the three years prior to the WEZ construction. The continuation of progress in the WEZ is vital to maintain recruiting momentum. In the ever escalating arms race of football facilities, if you aren't currently undergoing construction, you are falling behind. It is of the utmost importance that the new staff under Coach Swinney continues the growth of the WEZ and finishes off the more integral components, such as the state-of-the-art weight room.
2) Tommy Bowden Football Camp: The Tigers' summer camp has become a bigger and bigger draw for prospects across the southeast over the years. It is a great opportunity for youngsters to get expert level training and drills to help develop their game while getting a taste of what Clemson has to offer. The camp has built upon its own success each of the last few years, becoming a bulwark in recruiting efforts. Not only does the staff get to evaluate the prospects' physical skills a little more closely, they get to spend some one-on-one time coaching and interacting with each player, allowing a better feel for their personality, work ethic, and coachability.
This is also a great networking opportunity and relationship builder with fellow coaches in the area. The value of a good rapport with high school coaches cannot be overstated when it comes to recruiting. The upcoming Dabo Swinney Football Camp in June will go a long way to establishing a strong recruiting base both in this year's class and the next. With the myriad of new faces populating the Tiger sideline, this chance of an informal meet-and-greet session with coaches and players will be invaluable and should pay big dividends down the road.
3) Landing the Early Headliner: The past few recruiting cycles, the Tigers have had a knack for landing an in-class recruiting coordinator early in the process, thereby jumpstarting their recruiting efforts. In 2007, Willy Korn led the charge as the state's best player committing to don the paw a full year and half prior to his signing day. DaQuan Bowers, one of the best in the entire nation, led the 2008 efforts by cajoling fellow prospects to join the ranks after he committed over a year in advance. The smaller haul of 2009 saw JK Jay remain firm to the Tigers for over year despite the program's turmoil as he was a constant fixture in the ears of fellow recruits. The big question then comes, who will step up and be the ringleader for 2010?
Clemson is already on the board with some quality recruits. Martavis Bryant, the highly touted wide receiver does not possess the outgoing personality required of such a position. Athlete DeAndre "Nuke" Hopkins, another early commit, could fill this role, but needs to be more vocal about his passion for Clemson to the elite around the state. Sometimes there isn't such a prospect in the fold, but it certainly helps. One of the better truisms in recruiting is that topflight prospects gravitate to other topflight prospects. Having a recruit that is passionate about his university of choice constantly burning up the wires with other recruiting targets has a long-term cumulative effect and is a tremendous influence. While these types of recruits are not always available, it would behoove the Tigers to target such kids early and allow them free-reign to act as in-class recruiting coordinators.
4) Success in North Carolina: Clemson has expanded its recruiting footprint to cover a larger portion of the southeast in recent years, but has had more out of state success in the Tar Heel State than any other. Clemson dipped into their neighbor to the north several times over the last few years, landing high level prospects each year. Between 2006 and 2008, the Tigers swiped arguably the best defensive back in each class in Crezdon Butler, Marcus Gilchrist, and Spencer Adams respectively. In addition, Shrine Bowl phenoms Chris Hairston and Spencer Shuey both hail from North Carolina, as does rush-end Kourtnei Brown, a last-hour coup in 2007. The Tigers have done damage in recent years in North Carolina and need to continue their efforts there.
While North Carolina is not an especially talent rich state when compared to the likes of Georgia, Florida, or even South Carolina, it does produce its share of top-end talent year in and year out. Although the additions of David Cutcliffe, Butch Davis, and Tom O'Brien will make it harder than ever to lure prospects out of the state, the new Clemson staff has countered with upgrades in the recruiting arena across the board, most especially, long time North Carolina miner Dan Brooks. The Fayetteville area and powerhouse programs such as Independence and Shelby will continue to shell out premiere talent that is ripe for the picking. The Tigers would do well to continue working this area and have already positioned themselves for a big run here in 2010.
5) Early Talent Identification Instate: The Tigers have done a fantastic job of targeting "under the radar" prospects earlier in the process than rival schools of recent years. In 2008, a Hanahan possession receiver by the name of Brandon Ford was offered when no other school was recruiting him, only to see his stock explode. Last year, the Tigers snagged an unknown monster in Malliciah Goodman who turned out to be one of the best in the entire nation dominating at the Army All-American Game. This year, the trend has already continued with the likes of an early commitment of explosive athlete Joe Craig.
The recent turnover in the staff has put them a bit behind the proverbial eight ball when it comes to early talent identification. However, this is one of the most recruiting dedicated staffs in recent history and they will not be outworked by anyone. While this year's class has the Tigers playing catch-up to South Carolina and other programs in the area, expect this situation to be a complete 180 come next year and in the coming cycles. Clemson has already gotten a great start on the 2011 class and should continue to shine in its early talent identification.
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