Chris Slade knows a thing or two about the recruiting process, and not just because he’s a high school coach.
Slade, who is the head coach at Pace Academy in Atlanta, went through the process himself as a high school player at Yorktown (Va.) Tabb in the mid-to-late 1980s. In fact, he was recruited by Clemson offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell when he was the offensive line coach at N.C. State during that time.
Now — after playing linebacker for Virginia from 1989-1992 and then playing nine seasons in the NFL with the New England Patriots (1993-2000) and Carolina Panthers (2001) – Slade has seen his share of players get recruited and go on to play college ball since he has been at Pace Academy.
His most recent star recruit is five-star offensive guard Jamaree Salyer, who happens to be one of Clemson’s top targets in the class of 2018.
So, Slade has been able to link back up with Caldwell through Salyer’s recruitment as well as build relationships with other Clemson coaches.
“Robbie Caldwell, the offensive line coach, actually recruited me out of high school many moons ago,” Slade told The Clemson Insider during our road trip to Pace Academy on Monday. “So he and I kind of reminisce a lot about the days when I was in Virginia. Mike Reed played at Boston College when I was playing with the Patriots, and I knew him back then. And Tony Elliott has been the main guy who’s recruited Jamaree, and Tony is a class act.
“I love what they’re doing up there. Dabo (Swinney) and I have chopped it up a few times because we’re the same age and we knew a lot of the same people back when he was at Bama. So I’ve got a good relationship with that staff.”
In addition to Salyer, Slade has served as a mentor to a number of blue-chip recruits. Last season, former four-star offensive lineman Andrew Thomas, four-star wide receiver Trey Blount and three-star running back Deon Jackson were all members of Slade’s squad. Thomas and Blount signed with Georgia, while Jackson is now at Duke.
Slade takes a hands-on approach with his players’ recruitments, but not to the extent that he’s putting pressure on them. He simply has their best interest in mind and wants to help his kids find the best fit for them.
“I’ll get very involved in the beginning, and not to the point where I’m telling them hey, you need to go to this school,” he said. “I just give them all the pros and cons. Being through this as a player and being a coach and knowing a lot of the coaches that come through here, I can kind of see things that they can’t see. But at the end of the day, they’re going to make their own decisions. But I don’t want them to get blindsided by anything, and I’ll sit in a room with them and ask the coaches the tough questions. And I can usually see through some of the foolishness, if you will.”
As far as Salyer, the nation’s No. 1 offensive guard and No. 10 overall prospect in the country according to Rivals has garnered a ton of attention from college coaches.
Unlike some high-profile recruits these days, though, Salyer isn’t self-centered or an attention-seeker.
“He’s done a really good job in handling it and not letting it be a distraction,” Slade said. “He’s just really concentrating on Pace football this season and not letting the recruiting part disrupt what we’re trying to get accomplished, which is to get back to the state championship.”
Clemson offered Salyer (6-3, 340) back in June 2015 following his performance at the Dabo Swinney Camp as a rising sophomore, and the Tigers have since become one of the top contenders for his services.
Salyer has shown his strong interest in Clemson as he’s visited the school a number of times this year. He attended the program’s elite junior day in January, took in one of the team’s spring practice in March and competed for a day of the Swinney Camp in June.
“That’s one of his top schools,” Slade said. “I think what he likes about it is Dabo is a genuine guy. He’s very fiery. I think the relationship he has with coach Elliott and coach Caldwell continues to keep growing, and I think he likes the environment. And he likes the way they do things there in terms of we’re not going to do things the way everyone else does it when it comes to recruiting and offering everybody. They’re going to be methodical, they’re going to take their time and really get the best student-athletes and kids with the best character.”
Salyer told TCI he plans to sign with his school of choice on Dec. 20, the early signing date.
Whichever school lands his signature will not only be getting one of the nation’s premier talents, but also a high-character individual.
“They’re going to be one lucky university,” Slade said. “He’s going to be great in the community. He’s going to buy completely in. This is unfamiliar territory to him, coming to a private school in Buckhead, and he’s gotten here and embraced it. He speaks at a lot of the functions, he’s an ambassador, and I think he’ll be the same way in college. He wants to go somewhere and change things. Even if there’s some areas that need to be worked on, he’s going to take them on and he’s going to take the challenge.
“They’re going to get a great young man. He’ll go down in my career as a kid I’ll never forget and a kid who’s really shaped me in my coaching career.”
If Salyer ultimately decides for Clemson, Slade is sure his future will be in good hands.
“I told Jamaree no matter where he goes to college, I’m sure he’ll make the right decision for the right thing,” Slade said. “If he ends up at Clemson, I know I’ll be able to sleep at night.”
Salyer is ranked by the major recruiting services as a consensus top-two offensive guard and top-30 prospect nationally regardless of position.
Slade was a consensus All-American at Virginia in 1992. Four years later, he earned All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors with the Patriots.