With the spring evaluation period drawing to a close and summer approaching, The Clemson Insider provides an update on Clemson’s recruiting board for the 2018 class and where the Tigers stand with their top targets at each position.
In this part of the series, we take a look at defensive end:
Clemson has seven defensive ends on scholarship entering the 2017 season, including its only signee at the position in the 2017 class, Jordan Williams.
Rising redshirt juniors Chris Register and Richard Yeargin and rising junior Austin Bryant will come off the books by the end of the 2018 season. Rising redshirt sophomore Clelin Ferrell will be eligible for early entry into the NFL draft after this upcoming season, and other potential attrition can’t be discounted. Considering all of that, it’s easy to see why the Tigers are trying to reload at the position in the current recruiting cycle.
Clemson figures to take as many as three defensive ends in the 2018 class. With two on board in Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy five-star Xavier Thomas and Snellville (Ga.) South Gwinnett four-star Justin Mascoll, the Tigers are looking to add one more.
Thomas, the nation’s No. 1 defensive prospect, committed to Clemson over childhood favorite South Carolina before the Orange & White spring game on April 8.
Mascoll, a consensus top-250 prospect regardless of position, chose Clemson over Auburn, Georgia and Florida State when he committed on March 17.
There’s no question who Clemson would prefer to fill its lone available spot at defensive end in the 2018 class. Clemmons (N.C.) West Forsyth five-star K.J. Henry, a consensus top-15 overall prospect by ESPN, Rivals and 247Sports, is the priority target.
Henry, who received an offer from the Tigers in March 2016, most recently visited Clemson this past March after previously traveling to campus for the Louisville game last season.
In April, Henry announced a top 10 of Clemson, Alabama, Charlotte, Georgia, Louisville, Ohio State, Penn State, Pittsburgh, South Carolina and Virginia Tech. Clemson is considered one of the frontrunners along with Alabama, Georgia and Virginia Tech. Henry told us earlier this month that he plans to trim his list to five schools this summer, take his official visits and then commit toward the end of his senior season. He is on track to graduate in December and enroll early in his school of choice in January.
Clemson has dispensed two offers this month to defensive ends in the 2018 class, the first of which went to Marietta (Ga.) four-star Azeez Ojulari. Ojulari is a fast-rising recruit who has also collected offers from Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Notre Dame, Tennessee and Virginia Tech among others since the beginning of April.
Ojulari visited Clemson for the first time in early April and left impressed. Clemson is among his favorites with schools such as Auburn and Tennessee. He originally planned to commit this summer, but pushed his timetable back after the flurry of offers. He will likely narrow things down this summer.
Bradenton (Fla.) Braden River three-star defensive end Taylor Upshaw is the latest 2018 defensive end to get an offer from Clemson. It was essentially a grayshirt offer with the guarantee he would have a spot in Clemson’s 2019 class, though the Tigers told him the offer could go for the 2018 class should space become available later in the cycle.
Upshaw — the brother of Clemson walk-on linebacker Regan Upshaw and son of former NFL defensive end Regan Upshaw Jr. — announced a top 10 of Clemson, Kentucky, Louisville, N.C. State, Oklahoma, Ole Miss, Oregon, Pittsburgh, Tennessee and Vanderbilt this week. Upshaw would like to make a decision before his senior season but could opt to hold off on a commitment until later.
Another name to know is Baltimore (Md.) Gilman School’s Thomas Booker, who was offered by Clemson in January. Booker is rated as a defensive end by the major recruiting services with the exception of Rivals, which lists him as a tackle. At 6-foot-4, 271 pounds, he has the potential to play either position at the next level.
Notre Dame is seen as the team to beat in Booker’s recruitment, though Stanford could unseat the Irish as his leader if it offers. Booker has expressed interest in Clemson, which hopes to get him on campus this summer before he moves toward a decision.
Among the other names we’re tracking is Baltimore (Md.) St. Francis four-star Eyabi Anoma, who has a good story. After playing his first season of high school football as a junior, Anoma went from having a few offers for basketball to a consensus top-150 overall football recruit.
Anoma now has offers from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Tennessee, Texas A&M and USC among others. Alabama is probably in the driver’s seat, though he keeps his recruitment low key and it should gain clarity this summer. The Tigers offered in December, and he has stated interest in Clemson.