When Clemson opens spring practice this coming Wednesday, everyone will be interested to see how freshman quarterback DJ Uiagalelei looks. It will mark the first time anyone outside of Clemson will get to see the 5-star prospect in a Clemson uniform.
Uiagalelei, who enrolled at Clemson in January, was the No. 1 rated quarterback in the country coming out of high school, and the No. 2 player overall according to Rivals.com. He threw for 10,496 yards and 127 touchdowns in his high school career, while leading his high school team—St. John Bosco—to a California State Championship last fall.
In the title game, Uiagalelei completed 24-of-29 passes for 410 yards and threw four touchdown passes. In the semifinals, he rallied his team from a 23-point deficit to beat Mater Dei, while throwing for 446 yards and five touchdowns on 26-of-38 passes. Mater Dei, who beat Uiagalelei’s team during the regular season, was the No. 1-ranked team in the country at the time.
So, how did Clemson land Uiagalelei? How did Dabo Swinney and his coaching staff persuade the top player from California to come 3,000 miles across country to play college football?
Uiagalelei contacted Clemson.
“We weren’t recruiting him,” Swinney said recently. “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.’”
Because Clemson is one of the elite programs in college football. Since 2011, the Tigers are 111-16. They have been to the College Football Playoff in each of the last year five years. Have played in the national championship game four times and has won two of them.
Clemson has also produced nine straight 10-win seasons, seven top 10 seasons and five straight top 5 finishes, along with multiple wins over Ohio State, Oklahoma, Notre Dame and Alabama.
“You think about it. He’s 16 at that point. The last nine years, he’s grown up watching ‘Little ole Clemson,’” Swinney said. “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 is right, the Tigers are starting to get a lot of players like Uiagalelei, who want to see what Clemson is all about. They want to be a part of something special. Besides Uiagalelei, Swinney and his staff also signed the No. 1 player in the country in Bryan Bresee out of Maryland.
In recent years, Clemson has signed 4 and 5-stars such as Jackson Carman and Matt Bockhorst out of Ohio, Mario Goodrich of Missouri, Taisun Phommachanh of Connecticut, Joseph Ngata from California and, of course, Christian Wilkins, who was from Massachusetts.
“We’re going to recruit Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee, Virginia, Maryland, Florida, Alabama. That’s kind of our area, if you will,” Swinney said.
“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. But what has happened is a lot of these kids have reciprocated,” he continued. “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.”
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