Plyler Interview: David Blackwell
Mickey Plyler: How are you feeling about Wednesday?
Coach Blackwell: Every year signing day is an exciting time, just because there's a lot of excitement and a lot of hope as you bring in a new class. And there's always looking ahead and wondering what it's going to be like a couple years down the road when those guys grow up and progress. From the coaching part of it, you are never too high and never too low. You can't put it all on one class, but we are pretty excited about what we have done this year and think we can continue to build on it.
Mickey Plyler: You had spent several years north of the Mason Dixon line, and I know the trend there for years had been early commitments and obtaining guys that way. In the South it was a little bit slower I guess. I know that trend has changed, but I don't remember Clemson having that many early commitments that early in the process.
Coach Blackwell: One of the things is that we were able to get on a lot of kids early, as juniors and even some of them as sophomores, where we knew about them and as soon as we were able to start recruiting them ,we were able to get on them. A lot of our coaches had really good relationships with the high school coaches at those schools so we were able to get kind of a head start. And coming off some momentum from last seasons finish in the Peach Bowl, then with the West End Zone project that ishappening at Clemson, it’s a pretty exciting time to sell the program.
Mickey Plyler: Did you see an overall difference with the the instate kids, because you guys have done such a terrific job in the state, did you see that because of that success?
Coach Blackwell: Yes, and we were able to get a lot of kids on campus last spring and even into the summer for camps and things like that. All of our coaches did a nice job getting guys on campus ,and the more you get them around and the more you get them on campus, the more comfortable they feel. To me, if we can get a guy on campus, show him what we are all about and if he chooses not to come there, then I can live with that. Our coaches did a great job getting them there and our players have done a great job selling the program and the excitement surrounding the program right now.
Mickey Plyler: Is the pressure now to get them there as early as you can?
Coach Blackwell: Yes, it has made it where, it used to be sign the class and enjoy yourself for a week or two, then let your recruiting coordinator send out mass mail outs to the juniors and not really worry about them until May. Now it has changed where you have to get on these kids hard and early, try to get them on campus, try to get them to junior days, start writing hand written notes even earlier, and get familiar with them so they can get to know you. From September 1 of their junior year, you are allowed to start writing them. We hit them pretty hard with mail outs. Then we try to get a lot of the top juniors on campus during their junior years to games. So obviously, we can't call those young men, but we do a good job getting them there through letters and things like that.
Mickey Plyler: The more contact you have with them early on, I would think that help you learn more about character and other things you might not know unless you did get them there that early.
Coach Blackwell: There's no question. The more you can get them around you, the better you get to know them, and the better they get to know you, which is win/win for both. There's a comfort zone when you have a young man that's a junior that knows you personally because he's been on your campus Its the only time we're allowed to talk to them is when they're on our campus as underclassman. It gives you a chance to get those guys in with the head football coach, around position coaches, around coordinators, and start selling your program early, but more than anything else its an opportunity to get to know each other.
Mickey Plyler: It seems that the class of 2005 has a lot of high character kids. Is that a trend, an accident, or is it why the guys are the top athletically is because of that character?
Coach Blackwell: I think it goes hand in hand. There are an awful lot of young men who are just class individuals. And obviously on Wednesday we'll be able to talk openly about some of these guys, the families they come from, the backgrounds they come from, the communities they come from. I think it all goes hand in hand and there is no doubt one of the reasons these guys are so successful is because of the type of character they have.
Mickey Plyler: How important is the instate deal?
Coach Blackwell: I think its always important to do well instate. You're going to get the heart and soul of your football team from instate and that will always be important. There is outstanding football in this state, there are great players in this state, so we need to obviously get as many of those guys every year that we can. You never get all of them. There are always a few that always get away that you sure wish you could have gotten. That is also recruiting; I don't think anyone ever gets every player they want. But we are trying to make an effort to really recruit the state hard, and I think we have done a nice job with our coaches getting around seeing the high school coaches. We have really tried to keep our areas constant and not change them around, where you get the same coach in a school year after year after year. To me that is something very important. I think it pays huge dividends in the way that it allows you to get on players a lot earlier, because this coach has been going to this school for 3 or 4 years and he knows who the sophomores are and who the freshman are and who the juniors are. So it allows you to get ahead, instead of switching your areas around every year and you have a different coach going to the school each year. He doesn't know the juniors or the underclassman, so he's learning the school just like everyone else is. So I think the benefits of keeping your recruiting areas constant, as much as possible, there are things you're going have to change year end year out, it gives the high school coaches a face they can recognize all the time.
Mickey Plyler: When you fill up as fast as you guys do, and you go in to the war room with the staff ,you guys really duke it out fighting for your guy, your position?
Coach Blackwell: Yeah, and you hope a guy does that. It can get a little heated at times because guys are competitive. You've poured your heart and soul into recruiting a guy and you've got him at a point where you feel pretty comfortable that you are going to get him and you're being told that you're going have to cut him loose or not going to take him or slow down or one those things. And that is never easy and those are not fun phone calls to make Number 1. Number 2 you have poured your heart and soul into recruiting this kid and you've gotten to know him real well and so it's never easy. But you can have some pretty heated discussions as you get down to one or two scholarships left. Where does it go? To me, you've got to see the big picture and our guys are great. We'll talk openly, we have some heated discussions just like everyone does, but Coach Bowden is the final say so for everything. We look at the numbers a good bit. Once it starts getting tight we look at them almost on a daily basis. What do we need to do here, are we comfortable with what we've got, do we take the best player available from this point on, those types of things. Sometimes you just turn down great players, in the end of the whole thing it's not the best player that people think is the best player,it's the best fit for your program. A lot goes into it and obviously our coaches put an awful lot of work into it. but you can't sign them all either.
Mickey Plyler: Because of early commitments, have you all turned down more good players than you have in the past?
Coach Blackwell: Yeah, you can say that I guess, but we had a lot of momentum going and we were able to take a lot of kids early, so that would probably be a fair assessment.
Mickey Plyler: As a recruiting coordinator, talk about your relationship with Coach Bowden.
Coach Blackwell: He probably gets tired of me. From the first of September on, we start calling pretty heavy. I've got a nice list of guys he needs to start calling. We'll rotate him through while were on one phone call a week. It's not too bad then, but when season is close to being over, I tend to drive him crazy a little bit because there is an awful lot going on. The unfortunate thing about recruiting is that it is never guaranteed until signing day. It’s a situation that changes by the minute, so I try to keep him as up to date as I can on anything that is going on. You have to look ahead, most teams have a set number of line backers they are going to carry on scholarships, a set number of DB's so on and so forth. You try to keep your numbers as close to that as possible so you don't overload on one position and not enough on another. But really were he comes in, where I come in, is ok we need to take more than we have on this position because maybe we have a few guys that are injured or not developed as fast, or we're thin in this one position so we're going to steal from here to get that solid. We are getting to the point where hopefully we're not going to have to do that anymore.
Mickey Plyler: I have heard from high school coaches that Coach Bowden is more accessible now. Is that part of your job to stay on him about that kind of stuff?
Coach Blackwell: Yeah, we try to get him on the road in May, which is something he had not done much before. Just getting him more visible with high school coaches, and he does a great job, when he is in those environments. He is very willing to do it, you just have to ask him to do it. That was something I realized real quick, is you tell me what you want me to do and I'll do it. So I give him the list of high school coaches to call and he'll get to work on it. He does a great job with that and it is great to work for a head coach that will recruit hard. He's very proactive with that so I can't take all of the credit for that. He's a proactive guy when it comes to getting involved with high school coaches and also with the recruits.
Mickey Plyler: How does turnover affects college football and your team this year?
Coach Blackwell: It's never easy to replace guys, it's never a fun situation. We were lucky this year. Most of the kids that were committed at the time, the coaches were still here. It didn't have as big of an effect as it could have because of that and basically we had a lot of commitments and also it was early. We were able to work through that pretty good and have our coaches on the road and for the most part we did not encounter too many problems.
Mickey Plyler: Do you sleep at all Tuesday night?
Coach Blackwell: I am pretty good about that. I don't put all my eggs in one basket. I'm not going to let not getting one or two guys affect how I feel about this class because I think its an outstanding class. I could shut it down right now tonight knowing I'm going to get everyone we have committed and be extremely happy. Would you like to sign all those guys? Sure you would. You're never going to get all of them and the main thing is you're never too high, never too low, just keep an even keel. As excited as we are about this class, you never know until 2 or 3 years down the road how good the class is. People didn't think much of last year's class, but I think it's going to be an outstanding class. Just from seeing what we've seen from that class, obviously Barry Richardson. Nobody thought much of him coming out of high school. He was a freshman All American. There were a lot of guys rated a lot higher that he was that are not playing right now. And he started 7 games. So its not an exact science, but that's what makes it fun for the fans. But there will be an awful lot of people excited on Wednesday. I'll sleep pretty good Tuesday night because I feel pretty good about what we've got and I won't worry to much about the ones we don't get. I want young men to choose our program because they want to be there. Its an exciting time to be a part of it. If that's not what they choose, we'll be fine and go on wish them well and go on to the next guy. This year was a case where we don't really have to go to the next guy. We're going to be a little over signed, but its going to be a fun day on Wednesday regardless.
Mickey Plyler: Talk about your future at Clemson.
Coach Blackwell: I am really happy here. This is home for me. I am working for a tremendous head coach. I am very ambitious. Obviously, if an opportunity came along that was a chance to upgrade my career, I would be a fool not to look into it, but I am absolutely not looking for a job, or looking to leave. My family and my wife is happy here. We enjoy the people in the community and the fans have made us so welcome here. So we just don't leave for anything. I know there are lots of rumors going around and probably one of the worst things you can do is not address them, but I don't believe in addressing rumors. That gives life to them. We're extremely happy here and it would take an awful good job for us to leave.
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