When Will Shipley signed with Clemson on Wednesday, it was a long time coming for Dabo Swinney and the Tigers.
Clemson’s head coach and his staff had their sights on nabbing the five-star all-purpose back ever since they saw him work out at Swinney’s camp his sophomore year of high school, and two years later on May 5, 2020, they landed his verbal commitment before locking him up at the start of the early signing period Wednesday morning.
“Our man Ship, we’ve been chasing this guy forever. I mean, he’s like Sasquatch, man – we’ve been looking for him and chasing him, and we finally caught him. He tried to run from us for a long time,” Swinney said with a smile during Clemson Football’s National Signing Day show at the Reeves Football Operations Complex.
“This guy is special … First time I met Will and his family, I knew he was special, and I knew he was a great fit. But he’s also a guy that came to camp multiple times. And I remember when, it was his ninth or 10th grade year, Tony (Elliott) wanted me to look – he said, ‘Look, this kid right here now, I think he’s got a real chance.’ And just goes to show you Tony’s eye.”
Elliott, Clemson’s offensive coordinator and running backs coach, recognized Shipley’s talent right away when he laid eyes on him at the Swinney Camp in the summer of 2018.
“Just to echo what Coach (Swinney) said, he came to camp as a sophomore, you knew immediately just watching him run around that he had the skill set,” Elliott said during the Clemson Football signing day show. “But as you get to know him, he’s a lot like (Clemson running back signee) Phil (Mafah) – very high-character young man, very thorough, very detailed, very loyal. Wanted to make sure that he dotted every ‘i’ and crossed every ‘t’ in the recruiting process. He did make us work a little hard to get him there, but it was because he was doing it the right way.”
Shipley (5-11, 200), a native of Weddington, N.C., is ranked as the No. 1 all-purpose back in the nation for the class of 2021 by both Rivals and 247Sports. He is considered the No. 30 overall prospect in the country by the 247Sports Composite, while Rivals tabs him as the No. 45 prospect in the 2021 class regardless of position.
“A lot of people have him listed as the top all-purpose back in the country, and that’s what he is – he’s all-purpose,” Swinney said. “He’s dynamic. He can do it all. He can catch the football, he can come out of the backfield, you can put him in the slot, he can return kicks, he can run between the tackles. He can do it all, and I think going to be a great player for us here at Clemson.”
The product of Weddington High School in Matthews, N.C., rushed for 4,173 yards on 503 carries (8.3 yards per rush) in his three-year high school career to go with 1,411 receiving yards on 84 catches (16.8-yard average).
Despite not being able to play his senior season this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Shipley still totaled 80 touchdowns in his career, including 55 rushing, 23 receiving and two on defense.
A two-time all-state selection and two-time MaxPreps All-American, Shipley was named Gatorade Player of the Year in North Carolina and Charlotte Observer Player of the Year for 2019 after leading his team to a 16-0 record and the Class 3A state title. He was MVP of the 2019 state championship game during which he ran for 256 yards and scored four touchdowns in a win over Lee County (Sanford, N.C.) for his program’s second straight state title.
Shipley possesses the coveted mix of size and top-end speed, and he is coming to Clemson with natural ability as a receiver, something Elliott says Travis Etienne and former Tiger star running back Wayne Gallman didn’t necessarily have when they first joined the program.
“He has the complete skill set,” Elliott said of Shipley. “He has the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and run between the tackles, which sometimes you don’t see coming out of high school. You go back to Wayne Gallman, you had to develop Wayne as a pass catcher. You had to develop Travis as a pass catcher. But Will has the complete skill set, and he has the size, which is a unique combination when you talk about a guy that’s going to be very fast, 210, 215 pounds and you can play him in the slot. He just has a unique skill set.”
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