CLEMSON - Depending on whom you choose to believe, Clemson's 2003 recruiting class will be described as either doomed or decent.
A class devoid of any big name players, the 17 young men who signed national letters of intent with the Tigers Wednesday did little to inspire much positive feedback from fans. Many of them, watching as each upper-echelon player drifted into the coffers of other schools, flooded local sports radio talk shows and Internet discussion boards with a weeping and gnashing of teeth heretofore only spoken about in Biblical discussions.
"It is," one radio caller said, "a dark day in Clemson football history."
Head coach Tommy Bowden disagreed.
True, his best efforts to land such prized prospects as linemen Eric Young (Tennessee), Woodly Telfort (South Carolina) or quarterback Syvelle Newton (South Carolina) fell by the wayside.
But the Tigers did, for the second consecutive year, address a need on the offensive line with five signees - the smallest of which is Clint LaTray (6-foot-3, 275 pounds) from Allen, Texas. They held on to early commitment C.J. Gaddis (Raeford, N.C.) at quarterback, and landed a pair of tailbacks (Brandon Nolen and Tremaine Billie) who seem to fit into Bowden's system.
Overall, Bowden seemed determined to put a positive spin on the day's activities.
"I thought it was a very solid class," he said. "We got a quarterback out of North Carolina (C.J. Gaddis) who committed to us early. At running back, we got Tramaine Billie and Branden Nolen. We wanted five offensive linemen and got four (Chris McDuffie of Hargrave Military Academy is listed as a possibility on either side of the line).
"It was really solid from top to bottom. We could've used one more defensive lineman."
For the first time in three seasons the Tigers failed to sign more players than they had available scholarships, a practice usually employed to guard against losing the inevitable group of players who don't qualify academically.
This year, with 21 scholarships available, Clemson signed just 17 players. To make up for the shortcoming, Bowden said he is likely to give scholarships to walkons Tommy Sharpe, Geoff Rigsby and Tony Elliott.
He can then pull back those scholarships next season if so desired.
"It looks like the state of South Carolina is going to have a pretty significant crop of prospects next year, almost like the class from two years ago," he said. "So you can offer scholarships to walk-ons and then get that number back next year."
Bowden also said he would like to redshirt the entire class, if possible, remaining consistent with his philosophy from a year ago.
The one player who may escape the redshirt is junior college defensive back Brian Staley (Georgia Military College), who had a standout 2002 season. But other than an unexpected need popping up at another position, most of the class will sit out the 2003 campaign.
"I try not to look too far ahead," Bowden said. "We thought last year that Justin
Miller might contribute, but I don't think I made any bold statements at this time last year about his potential. There will be one or two who surprise, because it seems like there always is.
"However, you'd like to get your program to the stage where none of them have to play
In other football related news, Bowden announced that running back Tye Hill will experiment at cornerback this spring, while Gerald McCloud will move to safety.
Bowden also said that new defensive assistant David Blackwell will coach linebackers, just as he did at the University of Pittsburgh, with Jack Hines moving to the rover/whip position.
Defensive coordinator John Lovett will remain secondary coach, with Thielen Smith coaching the entire defensive line.
2003 Clemson Football Signees
#1 OL Brandon Pilgrim 6-5 285 Lilburn, GA (Parkview HS)
#2 WR Chris Jefferson 6-2 175 Morganton, NC (Freedom HS)
#3 RB Brandon Nolen 5-11 185 Old Bridge, NJ (Old Bridge HS)
#4 K Jad Dean 5-11 190 Grenwood, SC (Greenwood HS)
#5 QB C.J. Gaddis 6-1 205 Raeford, NC (Hoke County HS)
#6 OL Christian Capote 6-5 290 Miami, FL (Killian HS)
#7 OL Clint LaTray 6-3 275 Allen, TX (Allen HS)
#8 LB Maurice Nelson 6-2 205 Sumter, SC (Crestwood HS)
#9 OL Marion Dukes 6-4 295 Pickens, SC (Pickens HS)
#10 DB Robert Reese 5-11 185 Temple, GA (Temple HS)
#11 TE Zach Green 6-6 240 Conyers, GA (Salem HS)
#12 OL/DL Chris McDuffie 6-4 310 Hargrave Military Academy
#13 DB Brian Staley 5-10 180 Georgia Military College
#14 RB Tramaine Billie 6-1 195 Columbia, SC (Dreher HS)
#15 DE Kwam Williams 6-4 220 Atlanta, GA (Westlake HS)
#16 ATH Sergio Gilliam 6-3 185 Greer, SC (Greer HS)
#17 LB Nick Watkins 6-2 215 New Orleans, LA (Karr HS)