By Larry Williams
Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier
February 20, 2007
CLEMSON As Tommy Bowden walked to the podium to reflect on his ninth signing class at Clemson, he tried his best to hide the disappointment he had experienced over the previous few hours, and likely the previous few weeks as well.
According to the experts, Clemson's 23-player haul was a top-20 effort. That made it three straight solid classes, and Bowden and his assistants undoubtedly were happy that they were able to lure plenty of highly regarded recruits despite losing four of their last five games to finish 8-5.
"I'm very happy with who we got," Bowden said. "I learned a long time ago, you worry about the ones you got and not about the ones you didn't get. When you look at this class from top to bottom, this is as good as any that I've had."
There's no reason to discount that assertion. The Tigers snared some of the best players in South Carolina, including quarterback Willy Korn, safety Scotty Cooper, linebacker Stanley Hunter and center Mason Cloy. They raided North Carolina for cornerback Marcus Gilchrist, defensive end Kourtnei Brown, offensive tackle Landon Walker and defensive end Miguel Chavis. Add in safety DeAndre McDaniel (Tallahassee, Fla., via prep school) and tight end Brian Linthicum (Charlottesville, Va.), and there wasn't much to complain about.
But behind the scenes, there was plenty for Bowden to complain about. If not for Clemson's admissions department blocking the recruitment of several potential signees, the class might have been a lot better.
The Tigers' staff was irate that, on the day before national signing day, the school's Athletic Admissions Review Committee (AARC) blocked the admission of stud receiver Dwight Jones of Burlington, N.C. Clemson's coaches were supremely confident that Jones, regarded as a five-star prospect, was going to choose the Tigers over Tennessee and UNC. But the AARC apparently removed Clemson from the process, and Jones signed with the Tar Heels.
Jones wasn't the only prospect the AARC flagged. Tailback Jo Jo Cox signed with Clemson a year ago but didn't meet NCAA requirements, so Clemson placed him at Fork Union Military Academy. He was all set to sign with the Tigers again, before coaches were told to back off, five days before signing day.
The staff strongly believed that another prospect, Spartanburg receiver Markish Jones, was scared away by the academic controversy. Jones had committed to Clemson and even signed with the Tigers, but he had second thoughts before faxing in his letter of intent. He ended up signing with Florida State, then returned to the Tigers' fold a week after signing day, in a reversal that included the involvement of the ACC office.
The Clemson coaches contended that the list of barred prospects was even longer. To be sure, there's a major rift between the university's academic and athletic sides that doesn't appear close to being repaired.
The university, in hopes of eventually reaching president James Barker's goal of becoming distinguished as a top-20 public school, is ramping up its academic standards for everyone. That includes athletes, who aren't being given as many free passes as before.
Even though Barker issued a press release less than a week after signing day, saying that the administration would be open to changing its admissions process for athletes, Clemson's fan base appears united against him.
This episode galvanized faithful that hitherto had been voicing strong displeasure with Bowden and last season's underachievement. Before the academic fiasco, fans seemed to have had enough of Bowden's explanations for the train wreck that marked the end of 2006. Now, those same fans are rallying behind the 52-year-old coach as he fights his latest battle with the academic side.
Perhaps wisely, Bowden elected to refrain from commenting on the situation at his signing day press conference. He preferred to focus on a class that was highlighted by the late addition of Brown, the defensive end from Charlotte who previously had backed off a commitment to Alabama.
"Kourtnei Brown, doggone right he made our day today," recruiting coordinator David Blackwell said. "He put the icing on the cake, but there's a lot of other good players in this class."
Clemson continued to recruit well abroad, as 13 of its 23 signees were from beyond the Palmetto State borders. The Tigers continued to make inroads in North Carolina, a state Danny Ford owned during the glory days in the 1980s.
First-year tight ends coach Billy Napier, a 27-year-old whose hiring was viewed with some skepticism by many fans a year ago, proved he was well worth the risk. Napier quickly has become one of the best recruiters on the staff, and his ability to grab some of the top prospects out of the Tar Heel State undoubtedly made Bowden happy.
"I haven't been able to do that," Bowden said, "in the eight years I've been here."
Much has been made of Korn, and justifiably so, but Gilchrist might end up being the biggest splash of this class. The 5-11, 175-pounder from High Point should play immediately at a cornerback position that was hurt by the loss of starters Duane Coleman and C.J. Gaddis. All indications point to Gilchrist eventually being a shutdown force.
In addition to Gilchrist and Brown, Walker could end up playing early, as a solid bookend on the offensive line. Chavis, a 6-5, 255-pound defensive end, chose Clemson over Alabama and Georgia, among others. Napier barely missed stud defensive end Travian Robertson, who signed with South Carolina. Had the AARC not stepped in, Dwight Jones very well could be a Tiger, too.
Receivers coach Dabo Swinney showed that Clemson would have lost a valuable recruiter had he accepted an offer from coach Nick Saban at Alabama. Swinney signed six players to this class for the Tigers, including three from Alabama.
Five 2007 signees enrolled in January: Korn, Linthicum, McDaniel, Walker and in-state receiver Xavier Dye. All five, and particularly Korn, Dye and McDaniel, should play right away.
A week after signing day, Clemson denied admission to Cox, further enflaming the academic debate. Clemson's provost had granted a passionate appeal by assistant Ron West and forwarded it to Barker for consideration.
The coaches were counting on Cox to help shore up the depth at a position that lost Reggie Merriweather to graduation and Demerick Chancellor to transfer. There is no experience beyond returning stars James Davis and C.J. Spiller. Converted cornerback Ray Ray McElrathbey now will enter spring practice as the No. 3 back, followed by former walk-on Paul Macko.
On signing day, Bowden and Blackwell said they hoped to sign another tailback in the next few months.
The admissions controversy aside, Clemson's class was a success, given the upheaval that occurred over the past several months. If the disastrous ending of the season wasn't enough, Bowden had to deal with a regular dose of tumult.
First, he had to convince Spiller not to follow through on plans to transfer to Florida. Then, he had to fight off other schools that came after his assistants. At a minimum, seven of the nine aides were pursued by others. The only one Bowden has lost so far is running backs coach Burton Burns.
EXTRA EFFORT, TIMING TURNED BROWN ORANGE
In early fall, Clemson assistant coach Billy Napier was wondering about the stud defensive end at Victory Christian Center in Charlotte. He asked about Kourtnei Brown, who supposedly was committed to Alabama. Napier figured the Tigers didn't have much of a shot, but there was no harm in asking.
On signing day, Napier was glad he made the attempt. Brown signed with Clemson, giving the program what recruiting coordinator David Blackwell called "the icing on the cake," and completing an excellent recruiting cycle for Napier, who handles North Carolina for the Tigers.
"(Brown) is a young man who's exceptionally talented," Blackwell said. "He's explosive. He can really run. He's got nice size and nice range. He has the abilities and the character to be a guy that we think can be a very special football player."
By most accounts, the tide turned for the 6-5, 230-pound Brown after he made a visit to Clemson for the Tigers' Oct. 21 game against Georgia Tech. Brown had committed to Alabama in July, but he ended up backing off after Crimson Tide coach Mike Shula was fired.
Brown's visit to Clemson resonated. He was among the sellout crowd that watched the Tigers hang a 31-7 licking on the Yellow Jackets, in front of a national television audience.
The Tigers lost four of their last five games to end the season on a sour note, but Brown still was swayed by what Clemson had to offer. He ultimately chose the Tigers over North Carolina and Alabama.
Brown had 15 sacks as a junior and more than doubled that total with 31 in 2006. He earned a spot on the Shrine Bowl team and recorded three sacks in that game, plus a blocked extra point.
CLEMSON 2007 SIGNEES
Name Pos. Ht./Wt. Stars High School/Junior College
Andre Branch DE 6-4/235 2/2 Richmond (VA) Varina
All-district; TE/LB in HS; late over Akron, Buffalo, I-AA (?)
Kourtnei Brown* DE 6-5/230 4/4 Charlotte (NC) Victory Christian
SP-15 NC; 33 sacks as sr.!; over Ala., UNC, Tenn., VT
Miguel Chavis DE 6-5/255 3/3 Chatham (VA) Hargrave Military
From Fayetteville (NC) Sanford; UNC switch; Ga., Md.
Brandon Clear WR 6-4/205 3/3 Hoover (AL) High
SP-9 AL; all-region as senior; over Ill., NW, Syr., UCLA
Byron Clear DE 6-6/220 3/3 Hoover (AL) High
Twins 3 HS (military family); over Ill., NW, Syr., UCLA
Mason Cloy OL 6-4/265 3/3 Columbia (SC) Spring Valley
SP-15 SC; 1st-team all-state; over GT, Vandy, UVa, VT (!)
Scotty Cooper* S 6-0/206 4/4 Lake City (SC) High
PrepStar A-A; 1st-team all-state LB; over LSU, USC, WVU
Chad Diehl FB/TE 6-2/235 2/3 Duncan (SC) Byrnes
SP-27 SC; OG/FB/LB in HS; late over Duke, VT, WF (!)
Xavier Dye^ WR 6-4/195 3/3 Duncan (SC) Byrnes
SP-14 SC; limited action as sr. (transfer); early decision
Marcus Gilchrist* CB 5-11/175 4/4 High Point (NC) Andrews
SP-28 DB; PrepStar A-A; PR/KR; over Ga., ND, UNC (!)
Stanley Hunter LB 6-0/205 3/3 Duncan (SC) Byrnes
SP-24 LB; 1st-team all-state; 134-17 sr.; over UNC, USC
Jarvis Jenkins* DT 6-4/308 4/4 Central (SC) Daniel
PrepStar A-A; 1st-team all-state; early over ACC/SEC int. (?)
Markish Jones WR 6-0/183 3/4 Spartanburg (SC) Broome
SP-11 SC; 40-1030-13; FSU switch; Ala., Ky., Tenn. (?)
Willy Korn^* QB 6-2/200 4/4 Duncan (SC) Byrnes
Parade A-A; 3485-39 sr.; very early over ACC/SEC interest
Brian Linthicum^ TE 6-4/227 3/3 Charlottesville (VA) St.
SP-18 VA; 1st-team D2 all-state; over BC, Cal, Colo., VT (!)
Brandon Maye LB 6-2/225 2/3 Mobile (AL) Davidson
RV-29 AL; 120-5 (sacks) sr.; late over Memphis, So.Miss (!)
DeAndre McDaniel^* S 6-1/190 4/4 Chatham (VA) Hargrave Military
Re-sign; consensus prep A-A at Tallahassee (FL) Godby
Rennie Moore DE 6-5/260 3/3 Kingsland (GA) Camden Co.
SP-38 GA; injured as jr. (leg); early decision over FSU
Wilson Norris OL 6-5/320 3/3 Pickens (SC) High
SP-24 SC; life-long Tigers fan; very early over ACC interest
Coty Sensabaugh DB 6-1/180 2/2 Kingsport (TN) Dobyns-Bennett
1st-team 5A all-state; also hoops in HS; very late over I-AA
David Smith OL 6-5/255 3/3 Greenville (SC) High
SP-17 SC; all-region; very early decision over Md. (!)
Drew Traylor DE 6-4/225 3/2 Mountain Brook (AL) High
SP-17 AL; early over Duke, Ky., NW, USC, Vandy (!)
Landon Walker^* OT 6-6/275 4/4 Ronda (NC) East Wilkes
SP-13 NC; 1st-team all-state; legacy (dad); early over ACC
*-All-American (top 250 by two/more services) ^-enrolled (!)-strong academics (?)-unconfirmed academics STScout.com RVRivals.com SPSuperPrep STARS: By Scout/Rivals.
WHO GOT AWAY?
The following prospects had firm scholarship offers from Clemson and/or took official visits to Clemson but signed with other programs: Coffeyville (KS) Community College LB Larry Asante (Neb.), Westbrook (TX) School TE Billy Chavis (A&M), Orlando (FL) Edgewater LB Lorenzo Edwards (Fla.), Pittsburgh (PA) Woodland Hills TE Rob Gronkowski (Ariz.), Jacksonville (FL) Forrest LB Brandon Hicks (Fla.), Richmond (VA) Varina DE Jamar Jackson (FSU), Belle Glade (FL) Glades Central OL Jatavious Jackson (FSU), Burlington (NC) Cummings WR Dwight Jones (UNC), Tallahassee (FL) Lincoln CB Brandon Paul (FSU), Ahoskie (NC) Hertford County DT Tydreke Powell (UNC), Longwood (FL) Lyman DT Ian Williams (ND), Mobile (AL) Rain CB Ryan Williams (Aub.).
The following prospects also claimed scholarship offers from CU but eliminated the Tigers early in the recruiting process: Darien (GA) McIntosh County DE Allen Bailey (Miami), Jacksonville (FL) White RB Eric Baker (USC), Jackson (GA) High DE Neland Ball (Ga.), Columbia (SC) Richland Northeast S Mark Barnes (USC), Neeses (SC) Hunter DT William Brimfield (Tenn.), Wilmington (NC) New Hanover TE George Bryan (NCSU), Naples (FL) Collier WR Matt Clements (USC), Lakeland (FL) High TE Jordon Corbin (LSU), Garner (NC) High DB Chris Culliver (USC), Seffner (FL) Armwood DT Torrey Davis (Fla.), Huntingdon (TN) High LB Chris Donald (Tenn.), North Charleston (SC) Ft. Dorchester DE Carlos Dunlap (Fla.), Marietta (GA) Kell RB Jonathan Dwyer (GT), Columbus (GA) Shaw TE Bruce Figgins (Ga.), Prattville (AL) High DT Nick Gentry (Ala.), Columbia (SC) Richland Northeast DB Gary Gray (ND), Columbus (GA) Hardaway OL Antwane Greenlee (FSU), Conway (SC) High WR Junior Hemingway (USC), Matthews (NC) Butler RB Ryan Houston (UNC), Chamblee (GA) High RB Roddy Jones (GT), Tallahassee (FL) Lincoln DT Tim Lamb (Aub.), Powder Springs (GA) McEachern DT Ted Laurent (Miss.), Jeffersonville (GA) Twiggs County OL Chris Little (Ga.), Anderson (SC) Hanna RB Brian Maddox (USC), Cheraw (SC) High DE Cliff Matthews (USC), Athens (AL) High DT Alfred McCullough (Ala.), Bradenton (FL) Academy WR Jermaine McKenzie (Miami), Hoover (AL) High DT Kerry Murphy (Ala.), Lakeland (FL) High OL James Pouncey (Fla.), Lakeland (FL) High OL LaShawn Pouncey (Fla.), Hoover (AL) High OL Ryan Pugh (Aub.), Cherry Hill (NJ) Camden Catholic TE Mike Ragone (ND), Columbia (SC) Spring Valley OL Quintin Richardson (USC), Laurinburg (NC) Scotland DE Travian Robertson (USC), Durham (NC) Riverside TE Weslye Saunders (USC), Wadesboro (NC) Anson OL Trinton Sturdivant (Ga.), Alcoa (TN) High DE Rae Sykes (Tenn.), Belle Glade (FL) Glades Central WR Deonte Thompson (Fla.), Tifton (GA) Tift County WR Israel Troupe (Ga.), Cairo (GA) High WR Cameron Wade (FSU), Brownsville (TX) Haywood DE Alex Watkins (Ala.), Columbia (MO) Rock Bridge TE Aron White (Ga.), Marietta (GA) Walton TE Bailey Woods (Aub.), Laurinburg (NC) Scotland PK Jay Wooten (UNC).
Compiled by David Glenn