CLEMSON - When Tommy Bowden and his coaching staff assembled at the Clemson football offices Wednesday morning shortly after 6:30, they knew the next few hours would be agonizing.
After all, months and months of recruiting work was on the line. And, frighteningly enough, that work - and perhaps the future success of the football program - was lying in the hands of 18-year old kids trying to decide which combination of numbers to punch into a fax machine.
In the end, though, Bowden and Co. enjoyed one of the most bountiful National Signing Days of his Clemson career, as all 24 prior commitments - and one very special late arrival - decided to play college football for the Tigers.
"It was an anxious four or five hours," Bowden said in an afternoon press conference. "Until all the faxes get in you never feel comfortable. We started at 6:30 and lasted until the last fax came in at 11:30 (a.m.)."
The final fax proved to be the most intriguing.
Not so much because of the timing, though there were hopes it would arrive much earlier. But because of the name attached to the Letter of Intent - Antonio Clay, a 6-foot-1, 220-pound linebacker from Jeffersonville, Ga.
Clay, one of the top linebacker prospects in the country, had previously committed to Miami, Florida State and Oklahoma (twice), and it was thought he was choosing between Clemson and the Sooners. Finally, after much in the way of fan angst and discussion - and apparent near-change of heart at the moment he was to sign the papers binding him to the university - Clay decided his football future was best served with Bowden at Clemson.
His signing has given the Tigers' overall class ranking a boost on the national scene. The efforts of Bowden and his staff were rated No. 21 in the country by Scout.com, No., 19 by Rivals.com and No. 22 by ESPN's Tom Lemming (though at this writing, Lemming's rankings had not been updated since 10:30 a.m. and therefore did not reflect Clay's signing).
"I think from a national perception it (Clay's signing) kind of gives you a boost," Bowden said. "We would have been real happy had we gotten him or not. But this kind of shines a light on it. The way that unfolded made it a little more dramatic."
While Clay and Atlanta-area running back James Davis highlight the class, many feel this may be Bowden's deepest group yet.
Clemson signed five offensive linemen, including re-inking 2004 signee Corey Lambert (6-7, 310). Lambert is expected to be allowed to enroll during summer school. Another Upstate product, Barry Humphries (6-3, 295) of 3A state champion Belton-Honea Path, joins Lambert up front.
Bowden signed 12 players listed on the offensive side of the ball, 12 on defense, and one - Phillip Merling - listed as both a defensive end and tight end. (See attached chart for names/info on all signees).
All told, Bowden came away very happy with Wednesday's results, and he was quick to spread credit for the success in a number of different directions.
"It goes back to the players. Our present players made those guys feel comfortable," he said. "Then the last 15 games we've played, we've beaten Miami, Florida State and Tennessee. All of those teams have won national championships in the last seven years, so I don't know when was the last time that was done here.
"The staff did an excellent job evaluating, then maintaining the talent. And finally the commitment (athletic director) Terry Don Phillips and the administration made to this program was very important. They've started to do some things here...the locker rooms, the football offices, that have made a difference.
"Those were important links up to the beginning of the West Endzone project."
Bowden said his plans are to redshirt as many of the 25 signees as possible, though he conceded some of the incoming freshmen would have a chance for early playing time.
"There are always surprises and disappointments," he said. "There are several guys who have a chance to contribute immediately, but I'd rather not go into them one-by-one."
Complete 2005 Football Recruiting Class Bios
Dan Scott covers Clemson University for the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Seneca Daily Journal/Clemson Messenger and TigerNet. He also hosts SportsTalk from 9 a.m.-Noon, Monday-Friday, on WCCP-Fm, 104.9. Click here for Dan Scott's SportsTalk discussion board.