Clearwater (Fla.) Academy International is an attractive destination for Canadian prospective student-athletes looking to increase their exposure to Division I schools.
Ajou Ajou, a native of Brooks, Alberta, was one of those prospects up North seeking more attention from major college football programs. So, he made the move to the U.S. to attend Clearwater Academy, and his recruitment skyrocketed as a result. Now, he is committed to play wide receiver for the defending national champions.
The Clemson Insider stopped by Clearwater Academy this weekend as part of our Tour of Champions and spoke with Ajou’s head coach, Jesse Chinchar, while there.
“We had known about Ajou, as we’ve known about a lot of Canadian athletes up in Canada,” Chinchar said. “We’ve had a lot of Canadians come down in the last couple years. We had a couple kids sign D-I scholarships from Canada last year, and then we’ll have some more in this class. So, we had kind of always heard the name Ajou Ajou. The contact that I have up there who is responsible for basically helping kids come to the states, reached out to us about Ajou and asked us if we’d be interested in having Ajou here. Obviously, we said yes. So, it just came together naturally from there.”
It did not take long for Ajou’s recruiting process to take off. Offers poured in for the 6-foot-4, 200-pounder upon his arrival to the states, with schools such as Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Penn State, Nebraska, Tennessee, Texas A&M, UCF and many others throwing their hats in the ring.
Chinchar and his staff expected the flood of college interest to ensue after Ajou arrived at Clearwater Academy, though Ajou did not see it coming at all.
“We talked about every step of the process,” Chinchar said. “We kind of let him know beforehand, ‘Hey, we think that this is probably what’s going to happen for you.’ And he didn’t believe us of course. He’s like, ‘No, that’s not going to happen. If I come down I’m not going to get offers.’ And we’re like ‘Well, I think you’re wrong, but I guess we’ll find out if you show up.’”
Ajou had no idea how to navigate the recruiting process or what to make of it, so Chinchar helped him understand everything going on.
“Just a lot of conversations,” Chinchar said. “He’s not experienced with the NCAA recruiting before. A couple months ago, he didn’t know the SEC from the Big Ten from the ACC at all. So, just a lot of conversations and a lot of enlightenment on what everything means. He’s a smart kid, so it really just took pointing him in the right direction and letting him make the decisions for himself.”
Ajou visited Clemson for the Dabo Swinney Camp in June, received an offer from the Tigers during the visit, and the rest is history. He returned to campus in late July for the All In Cookout and gave his commitment to Dabo Swinney then.
Chinchar knew Ajou had fallen in love with Clemson after making the first trip with him.
“He was so excited about it,” Chinchar said. “We had a nine-hour drive back, and I think we talked about it the entire way back. He was so excited, and that really didn’t burn out. I think in recruiting, you want to make sure that feeling stays with you, and Clemson’s very good about that. Coach Swinney and Coach (Jeff) Scott were saying, ‘We know you love it here, but do yourself justice. You’re from another country, you haven’t seen too many schools – go see another school.’
“So, we took a couple stops in state. He saw Georgia, he took an OV (official visit) to Nebraska, and he’d seen UCF and Florida. And after a while he said, ‘When you know where home is, you don’t really need to keep looking.’ So, he knew that he was going to commit before he went up on that last visit.”
Also a high jumper and basketball player in Canada, Ajou is blessed with tremendous physical tools and natural ability. But he has a lot to learn about playing American football, so Chinchar and his staff are trying to mold his raw talent, coach him on some of the finer details of the sport and make him a more polished player.
Chinchar believes Ajou will benefit greatly by the experience he gains this season before moving on to the next level in 2020.
“Everything’s going to be different for him, even from just the rule changes – the field’s narrower, he’s not going to be able to go in motion like he does in Canada, and I think the competition is tougher as well. So, I think each game and even each practice for us has been a journey for him. I think his growth has been bigger than some of the other guys. His ceiling is so high, so I think that we’re going to be able to help him get a little bit closer to that ceiling before he heads off to Clemson.”
Off the field, Ajou has gotten accustomed to his new surroundings and settled in nicely with his coaches and teammates.
“He’s a great kid. What you see is what you get,” Chinchar said. “He’s always smiling, he’s always having a good time. He’s a talented kid. Anything he does, he does well. He’s a musician, he plays the drums, he plays piano, music, he’s an incredible dancer as you may have seen on social media… He’s just one of those kids where if he picks something up, he’s going to be good at it. Even when he came here, he clicked with everybody right away from the kids to the administration. He’s been fun to be around.”
Chinchar feels Ajou will fit right in at Clemson at the 9-man position with guys like Frank Ladson and Joseph Ngata. He believes Ajou has the potential to be great and can’t wait to see what he does for the Tigers.
“When we went up to Clemson the first time, Ajou and I were able to hang out a little bit with Frank Ladson and Joseph Ngata, and they look like triplets,” Chinchar said. “They’re all the same physique … They play that 9-man position in the offense, and that’s what they look like.
“Even in the camp that Ajou competed in, there was a moment where he went up and jumped up for the ball, and you could see Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross look over and were like, ‘Wow, did that just happen?’ So, I think the sky’s the limit for him at Clemson for sure.”
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