NEW ORLEANS — Clemson shocked the recruiting world on Dec. 20, the first day of college football’s early signing period, when it inked the signature of five-star offensive lineman Jackson Carman.
Carman, the top-ranked prospect in Ohio, was widely believed to be a heavy Ohio State lean for most of his recruitment. But Clemson found a way to beat the odds and pull off the major upset.
According to Robbie Caldwell, Carman could turn out to be one of the best the Tigers have had on the offensive line in years.
“He’s probably about as good as they’ve seen in a long time,” Clemson’s offensive line coach told The Clemson Insider during Saturday’s media day for the Sugar Bowl.
So, how did Caldwell and Clemson manage to land Carman?
The story starts with another offensive lineman from the Buckeye State — Matt Bockhorst, who signed with Clemson in February 2017. Bockhorst’s brother, Jonathan, is an offensive lineman at Furman University in Greenville, S.C. That’s how Caldwell learned of Matt.
Once Caldwell began recruiting Matt at St. Xavier High in Cincinnati, he became familiar with Carman from nearby Fairfield, Ohio.
“The way we got on Jackson is actually Matt Bockhorst,” Caldwell said. “He has a brother that (goes) to Furman. That was the connection.
“Having recruited Matt Bockhorst, I got to get up there (to Fairfield) and found out about (Carman) and learned about him… And it just so happens I had a teammate that I played with in college that is from Fairfield, so that started the connection.”
Caldwell was persistent in his recruitment of Carman, and it paid off in the end.
Most people thought Clemson stood little chance of getting Carman, who looked destined for Ohio State. Even Clemson’s staff, outside of Caldwell, was skeptical about whether the Tigers had a real shot with Carman. But Caldwell knew they were in it, and he continued to recruit him diligently.
“We’re relationship people, and we like to know our guys well,” Caldwell said. “Jackson didn’t have a phone. He was getting bombarded, so he just shut his phone down. So it was very difficult to get up with him. You had to work through the school and all that. But, every week that we could be there, I was there. Every week that it was legal, and I think that was the difference.”
Caldwell credited Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney, director of athletics Dan Radakovich and the athletic department for providing him with the resources to be a steady presence in Carman’s recruitment.
“We were just above board the whole time, and thank goodness for the athletic department allowing me to get there every week,” Caldwell said. “Because I jumped on the plane and tried to get there every time it was legal and do our due diligence.”
The Tigers still trailed Ohio State for Carman heading into his official visit to Clemson the weekend of Dec. 8. But because the Tigers were able to get Carman and his mother on campus, they were able to make up significant ground.
“She was very comfortable,” Caldwell said of Carman’s mom. “She came on the visit with him, and it was the worst weekend we’ve had. It was the weekend it snowed, and it was a mess. Flights were delayed… I got them in the hotel at midnight, and they were supposed to be there at like 5 o’clock. And they stuck it out. I offered them an opportunity to maybe try to reschedule, but he couldn’t being a January entry. He had his visits set, and I just admire the heck out of them because they stuck with it, wrestled through all the hardships and got here.”
Caldwell made his first official visit to Ohio State, and Southern Cal got his final official visit. But it was Clemson that made the most substantial impression.
Carman made only two visits to Clemson during his recruitment, including the official. But that was all the time he needed to see that Clemson was the best choice for him.
“They came down, and that’s all I asked of them,” Caldwell said. “I said you come down and see if it’s real or not. I said you’ll be able to tell. And they both did. Jackson could have gone anywhere in the world, but he saw this was the place for him and a fit for him. He’s been told so many things by other places. I told him son, I ain’t smart enough to lie to you because I have to remember what I said.”
With Carman on board, he figures to be squarely in the mix for early playing time as a true freshman next season. Most assume that Carman may be groomed as the replacement for left tackle Mitch Hyatt, depending on whether he decides to leave for the NFL after his junior season.
However, Caldwell didn’t rule out the possibility of Carman playing another position on the O-line in the future.
“Jack has been known for playing tackle,” Caldwell said. “But he asked me, you’ve got two guys over there at guard that’s graduating… Could I play that? I said certainly, you sure could. So who knows. We’re excited about seeing that.”