On the record with 4-star LB target Justin Foster


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Foster visits Death Valley last season
Foster visits Death Valley last season

The Clemson Tigers are locked in a recruiting battle with Notre Dame and Tennessee to land the services of four-star outside linebacker Justin Foster, of powerhouse Crest High School in Shelby, North Carolina.

The 6-foot-4, 240-pound defender – rated by several recruiting services as the top Tar Heel State prospect of the 2017 cycle and tabbed at No. 79 nationally in the ESPN 300 – spoke with TigerNet this week about his summer activities and future plans. Less than two weeks after attending the fifth annual All In Cookout in Tigertown, Foster listed his final three schools in this order: Clemson, Notre Dame, Tennessee.

“All three of them, I have real good relationships with the coaches,” he told TigerNet by phone Thursday. “I like the atmosphere at all three of the schools. I like Notre Dame – it's kind of small, and they're really high on academics. That's one of the biggest things with them.

“Clemson is just a family up there, and everyone around in my area loves Clemson a lot.

“And Tennessee, I just like it up there, great atmosphere – I like all the coaches, and every game there up there is just always crazy.”

And if the oft-repeated assertion that head coach Dabo Swinney has built a “family program” has become something of a cliché, it's not one that bothers Foster in the least. Instead, it's a prime selling point.

“Just the family atmosphere – and all the players bond with one another,” he said. “That's probably the biggest thing that stands out about Clemson.”

Defensive coordinator Brent Venables and Dan Brooks, associate head coach/defensive tackles, have been the primary Clemson coaches involved in Foster's recruitment.

Foster said at the Cookout, he was able to spend time with 2017 Tiger commits Hunter Johnson, Amari Rodgers and Tee Higgins, and he got to tour the Football Operations Complex that's under construction. Chicken tenders and barbecue were served, but the main menu item was conversation.

“It was mostly just catching up with all the recruits and the coaches,” he said. “We kind of just sat around and had a good time – there really wasn't much football talked, you kind of just get to know each other better.”

Foster, who enjoys tinkering with cars and fixing things, plans to major in mechanical engineering at whatever university he chooses to end. But it's his football mechanics that have caught the eye of Venables for a while, he said.

“Coach Venables … he just loves the way I come off the edge, how I can play outside linebacker, or he could slide me into middle linebacker, or just slide me into different spots,” Foster said. “And he likes that. He said I'm already 240 (pounds) coming in, so wherever I go, whatever school I pick, I've pretty much got the weight there – I just need to get into the weight room a little more and get trained up and get a little more muscle on me, and maybe I could make an impact from the start."

Foster said wherever he lands, that program would be getting a dynamic pass rusher with a knack for engineering the outcome of a play.

“I'm really great at affecting quarterbacks, and I can play in space,” he said. “I'd say those are two of the biggest things they'd be getting. I'd say those are my strengths on the field.”

Also this summer, he competed alongside the nation's premier prospects at The Opening, at Nike's headquarters in Oregon. The experience was both gratifying and enlightening, he said.

“It was pretty fun – you get to see how you fit in against top competition and where you stand,” Foster said. “You just go out there and compete. You have fun with it, and you're competing at the same time, and you're one of the top 170 or 160 guys in the country. It was just a great experience.”

The blazing speed displayed by some of the nation's top young running backs and wide receivers was eye-opening and a welcome challenge, he said.

“Just from state to state, there are different levels of competition. And when you put everybody together, you know, you get some kids that are just extremely fast,” Foster said. “I mean, we don't have people around in my state who are that fast, running laser times in the 40. And just a different speed of the game – you play against people like that, wide receivers and such, and you're on defense trying to compete against them and guard them – it's a challenge.”

No one particular player at The Opening stood out to Foster, who said all were there with the same purpose in mind: to elevate their game to the next level.

“Almost everyone stood out. Everyone had their own little thing they were good at. It was just a fun thing. … I think all around I did pretty well. I think I could work on my speed more,” said Foster, who's been clocked at 4.61 in the 40-yard dash.

The senior linebacker has blossomed into a leader for Crest High School, which is aiming for its third consecutive N.C. High School Athletic Association 3-AA championship. Coming off two undefeated seasons, the Chargers haven't lost a game since falling short in the 2013 state championship game.

As a junior, Foster racked up 67 tackles, 12 for loss. He sees his role for his senior season as being a mentor as much as a stalwart defender.

“I want to be a leader throughout the whole year,” he said. “We have a lot of younger guys, so I want to kind of coach them up. And try to go undefeated and win another state championship. That's the main, big goal. But I think we'll do pretty well.

“We'll probably struggle a little in the beginning, just getting some of the little kinks out, but I think overall we should be good and be able to work our way back to the state championship.”

And at some point in what he hopes will be a third straight state championship campaign, Foster said he'll announce his college decision. “Probably in the middle of the season,” he said.

He'll be making official visits this fall, and during one of those he'll attend a game in Death Valley. The Tigers, he said, proved this past season they can compete with anyone.

“I think it was a great game,” he said of the National Championship loss to Alabama. “Clemson had a couple of little mistakes. Just a couple of missed plays (and) I think it would have been a different outcome.

“And ACC vs. SEC was a good matchup – a lot of people said the SEC was just gonna dominate the ACC, but I felt like (Clemson) rose to the occasion and made a statement for the ACC. And they showed they're a school that can compete with any conference.”

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