Clemson adheres to an “inside-out” philosophy on the recruiting trail, meaning the staff does not necessarily commit resources to pursuing prospects outside of its traditional geographic footprint in the South.
However, the profile of Clemson’s program and growth of its brand in recent years has helped the Tigers recruit on a national level when they see fit to do so. Their recruiting reach extends from coast to coast, and they even went outside of the United States to snag a prospect in this year’s recruiting cycle.
The 24 student-athletes Clemson signed in its 2020 class represent 12 states plus Canada, the second-most states represented in a class under Dabo Swinney, who signed players from 14 states last year.
The national titles and big-time games like Saturday’s College Football Playoff semifinal against Ohio State in Glendale, Arizona, has helped Clemson gain more national clout over the past several years. But for Swinney and the Tigers, recruiting still starts from the inside and expands out.
“We don’t invest a lot of resources, so to speak, just, like, coming to Arizona,” Swinney said during the Fiesta Bowl media day last week. “We just go wherever. There’s no real set place. We talk about building the inside out. And we’re going to recruit Georgia and North Carolina and South Carolina and Tennessee, Virginia, Maryland, Florida, Alabama. That’s kind of our area, if you will. But what has happened is, like, we just signed a pretty good quarterback out of California. And we weren’t recruiting him.”
One year after five-star wide receiver Joseph Ngata became the first signee from the state of California to come to Clemson since 1991, Clemson added five-star quarterback DJ Uiagalelei (Inland Empire, Calif.) in the 2020 class, giving the program signees from California in back-to-back years for the first time on record.
Clemson’s program has risen in stature to the point where prospects and their camps are reaching out to Clemson to express interest first – not the other way around – and that was the case with Uiagalelei, who grew up watching this version of Clemson and loved what he saw.
“His coach tells the story, I think he had a million offers as a sophomore or something like that, but the coach was talking to him about is there a school out there that you like? And he was like, ‘Yeah, Clemson,’” Swinney said of Uiagalelei. “You think about it. He’s 16 at that point. The last nine years, he’s grown up watching little ole Clemson. So we get a lot of that, where these kids have grown up watching us and they’re interested. So his coach actually reached out to us. And Coach (Brandon) Streeter looks at it, and goes, ‘Wow. Yeah, he’s pretty good.’”
Swinney has now signed student-athletes from half of the states in the country (25) in his head coaching career, in addition to landing wide receiver Ajou Ajou from Canada as part of the 2020 class.
While recruiting from the inside out remains Clemson’s focus, the Tigers are having more success than ever going after top prospects around the country, regardless of location, when they deem a prospect to be the right fit for their program on and off the field.
”So we don’t really just, like, go say let’s go recruit all of California or Arizona or whatever, but we do track who we think are the best players and reach out,” Swinney said. “But what has happened is a lot of these kids have reciprocated. So we signed Joseph Ngata out of the Sacramento area last year. So back-to-back years, we’ve signed a kid from California for the first time in the history of our school.
“And so it’s not about just going and getting guys; it’s still, for us, about the right fit, just fitting our program, the core values of our program, the expectations and value of education, those types of things. And it’s been pretty cool to be able to see our reach grow. So, yeah, we’ll come to Arizona. We’ll go to Alaska. We’ve got a young man coming from Canada this year. So I’m super excited about that.”
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