CLEMSON — Twice earlier this season, Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd was a little too loose-lipped when he unwittingly mentioned a certain incoming recruit directly by name.
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Except he really wasn’t. Because as it’s understood to head coach Dabo Swinney, the moment DeShaun Watson signed his financial aid agreement (which could occur as soon as Sept. 1, and Swinney believes he did so around then), he became a Tiger in the public eye.
NCAA rules have long prohibited college programs from outwardly acknowledging any recruits until their written commitment on National Signing Day. In the past, coaches were permitted to contact recruits who had signed a financial aid agreement with the school with hopes to enroll early.
But now, the regulations have loosened to the point where school officials indeed can take questions about specific high school recruits with the agreement in hand.
The attention on Watson might intensify this coming weekend, then, with the Tigers hosting The Citadel on Senior Day at Memorial Stadium — Boyd’s final home game.
“I get a chance to host him this weekend,” Boyd said Tuesday. “I look at that guy like a little brother. Just a really humble kid, really good personality, super intelligent and just love the type of person he is. I think Clemson will be excited about the type of person they’re getting coming in.”
The 6-3, 188-pound Watson is rated the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback prospect in the country via Rivals.com, 247Sports.com and ESPN Recruiting.
Finally able to speak about the potential future face of the program, Swinney was uncommonly reserved in his response to the first direct question about Watson.
“I think he’s pretty good,” Swinney said, smiling.
Then he went on.
“He’s a great prospect. Everything you could possibly want in a quarterback. Great leader, a winner,” Swinney said. “He’s got an incredible skill set, especially for what we do. He fits our system perfectly. Really excited to have him come be a part of our program.”
The world of recruiting is such that nobody’s a firm commitment until they sign on the dotted line of a national letter of intent. Sort of like a marriage license; all people are single until they walk down the altar and deliver their vows and make it official.
In the case of a financial aid agreement, it’s more like an engagement ring.
“To me, it just makes zero sense that we don’t have an early signing period,” Swinney said. “All the questions and concerns are usually worked out. But it doesn’t really seem to have much traction right now.”
To be sure, Watson could technically still back out and sign with another school without having to sit out a year via transfer rules; but by all accounts, it’s not happening.
“We’ve been watching him since the ninth grade, and he’s been in our camp every year. I feel like we’ve been recruiting him forever,” Swinney said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun seeing him at this level. I think he’ll be one of those guys when it’s all said and done, just like this guy that’s leaving right now, he’ll leave his mark just like he did down in Gainesville (Ga.).”
According to the websites that cover Clemson recruiting, Watson was joined by linebaker Chris Register and wide receivers Artavis Scott, Demarre Kitt and Kyrin Priester. Scott (5-11, 179) and Kitt (6-0, 196) are consensus four-star recruits.
“It’s a great group, man. A really, really good group,” Swinney said. “Receiver is an area that’s obviously critical to our success. We’ve got to have great playmakers, and those guys are just what we need.”
Swinney estimates in the past, the school has received two or three financial aid agreements per year. So this season is a pleasant anomaly.
“The financial aid agreement is the same, being able to communicate with them is the same, we’ve known about that for a while,” Swinney said. “But publicity, being able to talk about these guys, that’s a whole different deal. And there’s probably some grey area in there that I can see people taking advantage of at some point.”
Offensive coordinator Chad Morris, Watson’s prime recruiter, has been regularly visiting Watson in Georgia this fall. Swinney didn’t want to compare Watson to any active quarterback.
“I just think he’s a pretty good DeShaun Watson,” Swinney said. “I think he’s a great player and a great young man. Tremendous family. He’s been tremendously well-coached. You watch what he does in high school, it’s a perfect fit for what we do here.”
Starting a true freshman from Day 1 is rare in major-conference programs. While Watson intends to enroll in college courses in January and participate in spring drills, he’ll have to overtake junior Cole Stoudt and freshman Chad Kelly for the starting gig next Aug. 30 at Georgia.
“Got some guys that can play right now. Those guys have proved they can play right now,” Boyd said. “I just think it will be an interesting competition.”