As Tigers build national brand, Swinney's in-home recruiting pitch has changed


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The Clemson coaching staff recruited Isaiah Simmons late in the process
The Clemson coaching staff recruited Isaiah Simmons late in the process

CLEMSON – Want to see the proof that Clemson is now a national brand? Look no further than recruiting, where the Tigers have taken premier athletes from states as far away as Kansas and Hawaii and Connecticut in recent years while continuing to recruit North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and especially Florida at an extremely high level.

During Tuesday’s press conference in the WestZone, I asked Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney to put me in the mind of Dabo the recruiter, the one who goes into the homes of elite prospects and sells the Clemson program.

My specific question was: How has your pitch changed since you were in the homes of 5-star athletes like Tony Steward and Stephone Anthony and all you were selling was promises and the chance to be on the ground floor of something special.

His response was immediate.

“We're selling results; that's really the biggest change. Back when I started we were just selling hope,” Swinney said. “We were just trying to get people to believe in us and the vision that we had. Eight years later to see where we are now it's special.”

Swinney has authored a turnaround in the program, a turnaround that has included six consecutive ten-win seasons and several high-profile wins, which means his recruiting pitch these days is a different than the one he used on former quarterback Tajh Boyd.

“Three out of the last four years we have been in a BCS or College Football Playoff Bowl and to know where we are eight years ago sitting in Tajh’s home trying to recruit my first quarterback to where we are today is definitely a lot,” he said. “We get in more homes, and it's easy to get people to save a visit to Clemson because our brand has grown so much.”

The brand and the results have grown to the point that the Tigers can secure a last-minute commitment or visit from a prospect even when they get in late during the recruiting cycle. That was evident last season when the Tigers lost four defensive backs to either transfer or declaring for the draft and still wound up getting the players they wanted.

“A perfect example was last year, we weren't recruiting any defensive backs, and we didn't have any scholarships for any defensive backs,” Swinney said. “At the end of the season we lost this guy, and that guy, and I didn't even really know we were losing those guys until after the game. All of a sudden Mackensie (Alexander), Jayron (Kearse), TJ (Green), Travis (Blanks), we had guys that moved on and then we get into the defensive backs business. We do our research and then in January, with only two weeks left we get on the phone with Isaiah (Simmons) in Kansas, and he agrees to come to Clemson for a trip for his one final visit. Eight years ago he wouldn’t have taken my phone call, so that’s the biggest change.”

Current safety K’von Wallace is another example.

“We'd never heard of K'Von Wallace. (Urban) Meyer was recruiting in D.C. and he turned the plane around and needed to see this kid who blew up the latter part of his senior year,” Swinney said.
“So we are battling Ohio St. for this guy. K'Von took a midweek visit here and we got him. You get guys like Scott Pagano who want to come visit, guys who reach out to you from Hawaii. That's the biggest change."

The rest of it? It hasn’t changed.

“As far as everything else, it’s the same. We are still selling our same core values for our program,” he said. “What we’re about and our philosophy hasn’t changed. We have become a school that even if guys don't end up coming they still come and check out. Which is huge for us, because we know if they come then we’ve got a great spot because this is a great place.”

*Intern Blythe Neal contributed to this report.

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