NCF On The Trail: ACC

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.
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.

ACC 2015 recruiting in review 

February, 9, 2015
Feb 9
The ACC was a big winner on national signing day.

Not only did the conference place two classes (Florida State and Clemson) in the top five of RecruitingNation's rankings, but it also had five classes in the top 25 and filled some needs. And the impressive part is the depth these programs showed in the final class rankings. Twelve of the 14 teams in the conference finished in the top 50, while 47 ESPN 300 prospects inked with schools in the conference.

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2016 recruits to watch in the ACC 

February, 6, 2015
Feb 6
The Class of 2015 is officially in the books. While fans have some downtime, colleges do not in a recruiting world that is nonstop all year. In the 2016 class, the ACC is already making its mark with 18 ESPN Junior 300 prospects committed.

While the conference is off to a roaring start behind the work of Miami and Florida State, the ACC must reel in a number of top targets ranked among the nation's best in order to have staying power come national signing day in 2016.

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"Signing day delivers usual intrigue and drama"

The headline that capped the madcap fun that is the first Wednesday of every February did not apply to the ACC this year.

That had to be a relief to coaches across the league.

While No. 1-rated ESPN 300 prospect Byron Cowart dawdled between Auburn and Florida, the SEC, Pac-12 and Big 12 each withstood their share of nationally televised signing day announcements, flips and flops.

In ACC country, nobody had to wait on a hat choice. Clemson finished up its No. 4 class by mid-morning with nary a surprise. Of course, it helps that 15 of its freshmen had already enrolled, including five-star offensive lineman Mitch Hyatt.

Florida State did not have to wait on pins and needles for wavering recruits, either. The Noles had eight early enrollees themselves, including elite players Josh Sweat, George Campbell and Derwin James.

As FSU reporter Jared Shanker wrote:
"A program once known for its signing-day surges had no surprises as all 20 commitments faxed their letters of intent by mid-morning. Even the signing-day addition of ESPN 300 safety Marcus Lewis was mostly expected, capping the nation’s No. 2 class at 21 signees."

The same went for Virginia Tech, which had nearly its entire Top 25 class ready to sign for weeks. The Hokies had seven early enrollees, but several commits withstood late offers -- including tackle Mike Arnold -- to hold firm.

"We had one guy make a decision to join our class in the last two weeks,” Virginia Tech recruiting coordinator Bryan Stinespring said. “The rest of them have been committed. We held on to this class, and I think we're really proud of that."

It was an unusual feeling, considering every coach is prepared for the twists and turns that come with 18-year-olds making big decisions about their future.

“You have those signing day moments every year,” Stinespring said. “That's what you expect. You hope they're to a minimum. This is one we really felt good throughout with this class. I like for it to always be that way, but we know it's probably not going to go that way often.”

Louisville may have provided the most drama not only on Wednesday but in the days leading up to signing day: first offering troubled defensive end Devonte Fields, then coming under scrutiny for asking long-committed back Matt Colburn to grayshirt.

On signing day itself, Louisville held on to commitments from defensive end G.G. Robinson and quarterback Lamar Jackson after late pushes from SEC schools (Auburn for Robinson; Florida for Jackson). The Cards lost just one player, defensive end Sheldrick Redwine flipped to Miami.

Still, Louisville finished with the No. 30 class in the ESPN RecruitingNation rankings, as 12 ACC teams finished in the top 50.
  • No. 2 Florida State
  • No. 4 Clemson
  • No. 23 Miami
  • No. 24 North Carolina
  • No. 25 Virginia Tech
  • No. 30 Louisville
  • No. 33 NC State
  • No. 41 Georgia Tech
  • No. 42 Wake Forest
  • No. 45 Duke
  • No. 46 Virginia
  • No. 48 Pittsburgh

"It's a celebration," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said after announcing his class Wednesday. "And no drama. That’s the way it ought to be.”

Grading the recruiting classes: ACC

February, 5, 2015
Feb 5

A team-by-team look at the 2015 recruiting classes in the ACC:


1. Florida State Seminoles

National rank: 2

The Seminoles improved upon their third-place finish in the 2014 class rankings in 2014 with a strong effort in the Class of 2015. Five-star DE Josh Sweat, the No. 11 overall player, is already enrolled in Tallahassee. No. 8 Derwin James Jr., the nation's top safety, and is joined in the secondary by No. 47 Tarvarus McFadden and No. 152 Marcus Lewis. No. 170 Darvin Taylor II sports size at defensive tackle. On the offensive side of the ball, QBs Deondre Francois (No. 42) and De'Andre Johnson (No. 259) will battle from day one, and they will have No. 7 George Campbell and No. 44 Da'Vante Phillips to throw the ball to. No. 49 Jacques Patrick is a load-carrying back with a deceptive burst. Four-star TE Jalen Wilkerson and four-star OL Cole Minshew were key signees out of the Peach State. No. 55 Abdul Bello was a huge late-July get with a very high-ceiling. ESPN JC 50 No. 18 Lorenzo Phillips is an impact linebacker prospect.

To see the rest of the grades in the ACC, click here. Insider