NCF On The Trail: ACC

BUFORD, Ga. - Despite the cold and rainy weather conditions, more than 400 prospects from all over the Southeast made the trip to Buford High School for the Nike The Opening Regional Camp on Sunday.
[+] EnlargeMalik Henry
Miller Safrit/ESPNFlorida State quarterback pledge Malik Henry was among the prospects earning invitations to The Opening.
With less than ideal conditions for throwing the ball, several quarterbacks and wide receivers -- including Malik Henry, David Moore, Josh Imatorbhebehe, Freddie Swain, Tre Nixon and several other players -- had standout performances at the camp. Swain, the No. 214 prospect in the ESPN Junior 300, was one of the most impressive receivers and took home the wide receiver MVP as well as an invitation to The Opening. The 6-foot, 170-pound athlete from Citra (Florida) North Marion High School took advantage of his trip to Atlanta by visiting the University of Georgia on Saturday before attending the Nike camp. The visit turned out to be a success for the talented receiver. “I just got offered by Georgia yesterday on my visit,” Swain said. "It was a lot of fun and I got to meet with coach Richt. He just said to keep working hard and he’ll see me in the spring.”
Notre Dame has one ESPN Jr. 300 prospect committed in the 2016 class -- offensive lineman Tommy Kraemer -- but the Irish are hoping to change that this weekend. Coach Brian Kelly and his staff are set to host a huge weekend with more than 20 visitors from the 2016 class alone. Here is a look at some of the bigger names expected on campus.

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The state of Florida is generally loaded with playmakers at wide receiver. In fact, over the last five years, the state has produced at least eight ESPN 300 prospects in every class. This year’s group of wide receivers just might top them all. An astounding 15 wideouts from the Sunshine State are listed in the ESPN Junior 300. It’s the deepest wide receiver class to come out of Florida in recent memory.

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Nate Craig-Myers talks FSU visit 

March, 2, 2015
Mar 2
KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Nate Craig-Myers, the top-ranked receiver in the 2016 class, was in attendance at the Nike Football The Opening Orlando Regional on Sunday. Because of a leg injury suffered during his senior season, the 6-foot-2, 202-pound athlete did not participate. Craig-Myers did, however, take a few minutes to give an update on his recruitment.

Craig-Myers, the 10th-ranked player overall in the ESPN Junior 300, has been committed to Auburn since last July, but it is no secret that he continues to look at other programs. The talented pass-catcher took a visit to FSU on Saturday and came away impressed with his time in Tallahassee.

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KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Despite being overcast and rainy, the Orlando Nike regional camp had an incredible turnout of some of the top prospects in the ESPN Junior 300.

The impressive list of prospects in attendance was led by the 30th-ranked player in the ESPN Junior 300, No. 30 Isaac Nauta, No. 32 Feliepe Franks, No. 42 Demetris Robertson, No. 66 Rahshaun Smith and No. 92 Shaq Quarterman. The 10th-ranked player in the country, Nate Craig-Myers, was also in attendance but did not participate due to an injury.

While Saturday’s camp in Miami showcased many defensive top defensive back prospects, the offensive line was dominant on Sunday in Orlando.

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Thad Turnipseed knows a thing or two about the power of recruiting, having come from Alabama. The Crimson Tide won consecutive recruiting (and national) titles in the final two seasons of Turnipseed’s 11 years in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, as the associate athletic director for special projects and the director of football external affairs. His position -- Clemson’s director of recruiting and external affairs -- is a bit different, but the returns so far have been great for Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney, who brought his former college teammate aboard in 2013. caught up with Turnipseed recently to talk about how he helped orchestrate a 2015 Clemson class that ranked fourth nationally.

What has Dabo Swinney tapped into that has allowed [Clemson recruiting] to take off in recent years?

Thad Turnipseed: He calls it ‘Clemson Google.’ Everybody has a recruiting board, per se. Dabo's different. Of course he's highly intelligent. Most coaches look at that board and say, 'I want my top two guys on the board. My top three guys on the board.' Dabo doesn't care about that. He wants to know who's the best fit. The biggest difference is that the culture here, now after six years in place, kind of recruits itself. You get the right kid in town, and they feel and see it. Sometimes it takes a couple visits, but that's what he does different. Look at the Super Bowl. There's only like two- or three- or four-stars on the [participating teams]. But the culture, the character, we spend more of my effort on.

Is he a Clemson guy? A good fit? What's he say on social media? It's illegal for me to evaluate talent, so I don't care who the coaches put on the board. Who they put on it, my job is to help recruit him better, get better graphics, get the videos done, be in-touch with them more often when they're on campus, give them more attention. That's what I do. Dabo, he's more concerned: 'OK, when they're here, what are they like? What are their grades? Are they good people? What's their family like? Are they going to be a fit here, first and foremost? And then, are they a good player?' And that's the No. 1 difference in Dabo Swinney and anyone I've been around, because everybody else wants the best player. You don't know who the best player is for two, three years down the road. It's a guess. That's probably the best way I can describe it.

Alabama's been the gold standard in recruiting. How much of what you took from there is applied to the vision you guys have at Clemson?

TT: Our two programs are completely different; great in their own ways. I'm not saying we're any better, they're any better. It's just different. I saw the structure, I saw how Coach [Nick] Saban did it with the recruiting room, boards, the travel, just being around it. So I probably took 40 percent of what they had. The structure's in place. But we knew we had to get more mail, we knew we had to get in touch with them more, we knew we had to have a better experience in their ear. We touch them better. We do have a more organized board. We're in touch with the mailouts and the graphics, and now we have a video department. Alabama created their whole brand, the 'Built by Bama' brand and all of that, so I brought a lot of the branding concepts here that are totally different than the concepts at Alabama. I think it's like 40-60 -- 60 percent Clemson.

The uniqueness is the culture here. Most schools don't recruit to a culture. They recruit to a system. I brought every freshman in last year. I said: Why did you come to Clemson? I was trying to get ideas to recruit better. Deshaun Watson and Artavis Scott were the first two I brought in, and they said, 'First, Thad, it just felt real here.' And I know that sounds like recruiting talk to you, but it just feels different here. And then second, I go to the board, I say 'OK, I'm about to start mailing all these 2016 kids when it's legal, on Sept. 1.' I said: How much of an impact did that have on you? They said, 'That was nice for about a month, but by then we got so much. What stuck with me the most was the mail I got in ninth grade. That's when I first started getting the mail.' Well, we wouldn't mail that much. So now what do we do? We mail 12 times a year to ninth- and 10th-graders. Now, all you can do is legally mail them camp brochures and questionnaires or NCAA compliance material. So we just divide that up 12 times. That's what Alabama was doing good -- staying in touch with them as much as they could legally. So that's what I'm making sure we do.

How have you seen the operation grow in terms of personnel?

TT: I'm breaking it up two different ways: Event management/mail operations, and then recruiting war room -- managing the board, our data management, making sure who's on the board, the right people are ordered the right way for the coaches. So I hired an event management girl named Jessica [Carroll], as soon as she graduated. [Carroll and I] did all the student help until this summer, we got to hire the 10 extra students. And then this December, we were allowed to hire a second full-time person, named Jordan [Sorrells]. He helps me in the recruiting room.

Another thing I learned from Deshaun Watson and Artavis, they didn't open the mail. They said some people got creative. If it was handwritten mail they'd open it, but everything they do is on social media. So what do we do? Jordan spends three or four hours a day scanning everything we mail out and direct-messaging it to them through their social media. So all of our [2016] guys, we'll send out 150 direct messages. That's the only way they look at it. If we're going to spend the effort to make it, let's make sure we spend the effort to get it to them. And why Dabo calls it 'Clemson Google' is because of that culture factor I was telling you about: Everybody he recruits, he wants to follow their social media, do Google checks on them constantly to make sure there's no issues with them. So we literally Google all those names constantly, we get on their social media, and that's how we give him a report that says, 'Hey, here's everybody the coaches have on the board, here's how they rank character and academically.'

What’s the next step for Clemson? How high do you think you guys can go?

TT: I hate to say it because you just think it's coach-talk or recruiting-talk, but the only limitations we put on Clemson are the ones we put on ourselves. We're as good as anybody out there, and we're starting to believe we're as good as anybody out there, and when we get that belief -- because we're already there -- we put that belief with it. I think we're as good as anybody, including Alabama. They're the gold standard. I truly, truly believe Coach Swinney will be the man in college football, starting the next couple of years, for years to come. I think as we brand him along with Clemson, then we can go hand-pick some others maybe a little further out of our geographic region that we normally recruit hard in. And that will only continue to build during his time here at Clemson.
The Ultimate ESPN 300 is RecruitingNation's ranking of the best prospects since 2006, when we began evaluating high school athletes. As is always the case with recruiting, there are some surprising and shocking decisions by prospects, as well some that are tough for the home teams to swallow.

Here are five from the ACC, both positive and negative.

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Many believe ESPN Junior 300 defensive Nick Bosa will be an even better college football player than his brother. That’s saying a lot because his brother is Joey Bosa, star defensive lineman for national champion Ohio State and one of the top projected picks for the 2016 NFL draft.

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The Ultimate ESPN 300 is RecruitingNation's ranking of the best prospects since we began evaluating high school athletes in 2006. While many names on the list were highly recruited and ranked coming out of high school, there is also a good portion of players who were unheralded or lower ranked and went on to reach great heights in college and beyond.

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COCOA BEACH, Fla. -- When the top prospects get together at an even such as the Pylon 7-on-7, there are always a number of interesting topics on the recruiting front to be discussed. In particular, last weekend’s 7-on-7 featured many of the top skill prospects in Broward, Dade and Palm Beach counties and that meant the Miami Hurricanes were a topic of discussion.

When talking about Miami in it’s current state, the main question is when or if The U will be back among the nation's elite.

After a 9-4 season in 2013, the Hurricanes took a step back in 2014, finishing 6-7, albeit with a talented freshman quarterback in Brad Kaaya who certainly provides Miami fans hope for 2015 and beyond. That means the 2015 season is a make-or-break one for Al Golden and staff with the rival Florida State Seminoles winning and recruiting at a very high level and the Florida Gators sure to get the recruiting bounce in 2016 after a coaching change and the ability to sell a vision for the future to top prospects in the Sunshine State.

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Louisville signed the 30th-best 2015 class and is already off to a great start in 2016. The Cardinals have a good group of receivers on board and look to be in great shape with ESPN Junior 300 quarterback Jawon Pass.

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Three-star running back Matt Colburn has landed at Wake Forest, a week after Louisville asked him to delay his enrollment, drawing national headlines.

Colburn made the announcement at his South Carolina high school on Wednesday, and Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson tweeted out the news after the school received his letter of intent.

Colburn drew widespread attention after Tony Grantham told him on Feb. 2 that there was no scholarship available for him in 2015. Instead, he was asked to grayshirt, delaying his enrollment until 2016.

To read Andrea Adelson's full report click here.
Quarterback Kyler Murray grabbed all of the headlines at Allen (Texas) High School over the past few seasons, but it’s actually junior offensive tackle Greg Little who is a higher-ranked prospect.

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The Wake Forest roster was in such bad shape when Dave Clawson became head coach there was no way he could fill all of its needs with just one recruiting class.

So Clawson got to work identifying how he would prioritize the positions he absolutely needed to fill. The emphasis last year was on offensive line. The emphasis this year was on offensive skill positions and cornerback. In totality, Clawson has put together two classes that hit everything he wanted.

But more than that, he elevated recruiting at Wake Forest to a new level. ESPN RecruitingNation slotted Wake Forest No. 42 in its final 2015 class rankings. That put the Deacs ninth in the ACC, a big improvement over their last-place ranking in 2014.

[+] EnlargeDave Clawson
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsDave Clawson has put together two consecutive solid recruiting classes, especially at the skill positions.
What makes this class stand out is the quality players Clawson signed. Two four-stars came aboard, matching the same total Wake Forest had between 2010 and 2013. (Clawson did sign a four-star prospect last year in Kameron Uter, but he decided to play baseball).

One of them, tight end Bowman Archibald, flipped from Miami and became the first ESPN 300 prospect to sign with Wake Forest. The other is quarterback Kyle Kearns, who flipped from SMU and arrives from California.

Those players might have the star ratings next to their names, but Wake Forest also signed several other highly sought after prospects, including dual-threat quarterback Kendall Hinton, receiver Steven Claude and running back Rocky Reid.

“We’ve had big numbers now two years in a row, so you feel with these two classes we set a foundation of what we’re going to build personnel wise,” Clawson said in a recent phone interview. “This is two big groups, and these are the groups we have to improve and work with to become competitive again in the ACC.”

Wake Forest ended up signing two quarterbacks, five receivers and two running backs, helping the Deacs not only build depth but competition. What happens at quarterback will be interesting to watch.

Wake Forest initially targeted Hinton as their top quarterback to sign, but also saw how deep and talented the quarterback group was in California. Wake Forest rarely crosses to the West Coast to recruit but made an exception to potentially fill a need. Offensive coordinator Warren Ruggiero scouted Kearns last spring and liked what he saw.

A series of events led the Deacs back to Kearns. After freshman John Wolford won the job last year, backup Tyler Cameron decided to transfer. Another scholarship quarterback, Kevin Sousa, graduates in May, leaving the Deacs with no depth at all at the position. They needed to sign another quarterback.

Once Kearns decommitted from SMU, Wake Forest reached out again to see whether he was interested. He took an official visit and committed on the spot. Hinton already is enrolled and will compete with Wolford during spring practice, though Wolford will take the first-team reps.

“We said the same thing to them we said to John the year before, ‘If you come here, we’ll let you compete for it,’” Clawson said. “That’s not a knock on John. I thought John played well at times last year and very courageously and we’re very excited about him. But it’s football. Every position’s competitive. If he’s going to be our starter, he’s got to get better and he’ll get pushed.”

It should come as no surprise that Wake Forest will have to play freshman skill players and cornerbacks this year, simply because the Deacs have so few upperclassmen at those spots. Clawson anticipates half pf his roster when fall camp opens will be freshmen.

So inexperience will be high. But there is no doubt Wake Forest is more talented now than it was when Clawson arrived.

“We got a lot of really good, solid football players,” Clawson said. “We clearly upgraded our roster. We clearly became more talented. Now the key at Wake Forest is retaining them and developing them.”
It’s been seven years since a team other than Florida State or Clemson won the ACC’s Atlantic Division, and after the Seminoles and Tigers each signed a top-five recruiting class this year, the balance of power doesn’t appear poised to shift any time soon.

That might be a problem for the ACC overall. With FSU and Clemson jockeying for command of a conference that has struggled to keep up appearances compared with the neighboring SEC, consolidating power at the top while the rest of the league picks up the scraps might not be the best way to convince the public -- or future playoff committees -- that there is more to the ACC than its top two teams.

But what if a great rivalry at the top also means a boon for the teams farther down the ladder? Consider it trickle-down economics for the college football set.

[+] EnlargeDabo Swinney, Jimbo Fisher
Joshua S. Kelly/USA TODAY SportsClemson coach Dabo Swinney, left, and Florida State's Jimbo Fisher lead elite programs that are forcing the rest of the ACC to keep pace.
The last time the ACC signed two top-five classes was in 2008, back when the playoff was a pipe dream, conference realignment was but a whisper, and Deshaun Watson was in the seventh grade. Miami and Clemson put together the nation’s two best signing classes, but neither program saw immediate dividends. An NCAA investigation unmoored any hope the Hurricanes could return to national prominence, and Clemson parted ways with its head coach just eight months after he signed the country’s No. 2 class.

At the same time, the balance of power was shifting in the SEC. Alabama had hired Nick Saban the year before, and by the end of 2008, the Crimson Tide were back in the national spotlight. Auburn, meanwhile, finished 5-7, and the gauntlet was thrown.

Over the next few years, the longtime rivals traded blows -- on the recruiting trail, on the fund-raising circuit, and on the field. The SEC was already the nation’s preeminent conference, but investment in maintaining that success grew exponentially. Alabama and Auburn paced the growth, but if Georgia and Tennessee and LSU and Florida wanted to keep pace, they had to go all-in, too. Cut-throat coaching changes, major renovations in facilities, bloody recruiting battles, huge pay raises for assistant coaches -- these became the norm. It was an arms race, and the two teams at the top set the pace.

The same groundwork isn’t there for the ACC just yet, but what Florida State and Clemson are doing could set a similar precedent. Just look at what’s happened in the past few months.

NC State had its best signing day in years.

Virginia Tech signed a solid class in spite of hot-seat rumors for head coach Frank Beamer. That group joins an already outstanding group of rising freshmen in Blacksburg.

Duke signed its best class under David Cutcliffe, too, while renovations to the stadium are ongoing.

North Carolina is still fending off its own NCAA black cloud, but to fix its disastrous defense, it brought in the same coach who engineered Auburn’s national title in 2010.

Overall last week, the ACC had six teams finish in the top 30 in ESPN’s recruiting rankings (the most by any conference other than the SEC), had 12 in the top 50, and saw Louisville, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest all jump at least 13 spots from the previous year’s rankings.

Meanwhile, FSU and Clemson keep chugging along, raising the bar again and again. The Seminoles will send more players to the NFL combine this year than any other program in the nation. Clemson just announced a $75 million investment in upgrading its athletics facilities. These two programs push the goal line a little further down the field, and everyone else is forced to keep pace.

That is not to suggest the ACC is poised to change perceptions on the national level just yet. The league signed 47 members of the ESPN 300 this year, which would sound pretty nice if the SEC hadn’t nabbed 116. Those six ACC programs that finished among the top 30 signing classes still represent just half of the SEC’s tally. North Carolina and Miami still must escape NCAA purgatory and build consistent winners, Virginia Tech must capitalize on its young talent to salvage Beamer’s job, and the young coaches at NC State and Wake Forest need to prove they can develop the talent they’re bringing in.

But there is a standard being set at the top, with Florida State and Clemson upping the ante in recruiting, player development and financial investment in their programs, and that’s good for everyone. It’s not Auburn-Alabama yet, and it probably never will be, but it’s a spotlight on a conference that has long coveted a bigger stage, and it’s a pace-setter for the second tier of the league that now needs to run a bit faster just to keep up.