CLEMSON - While reporters scattered around the WestZone team room browsed notes on Clemson's official recruiting class of 2014 - three pieces of paper stapled together containing 22 names and extensive bios - the head coach held in his hand the class of 2009.
No staples required. It was one sheet. With 12 names on it. Not a particular awe-inspiring group, either - not at the time, at least.
Dabo Swinney's first group of commits - his Dandy Dozen - didn't turn out too poorly.
"It's amazing. This class was ranked 37th by Rivals and 42nd by Scout, and they weren't even ranked by ESPN," Swinney said at his Wednesday news conference to cap National Signing Day. "But I think these ol' boys turned out pretty good."
Tajh Boyd, Brandon Thomas, Spencer Shuey and Roderick McDowell, among others, leave behind a 38-15 overall record, the best mark for a Clemson senior class since 1991.
"I really believe we've got it all backwards in recruiting," Swinney said. "I personally believe recruiting rankings should come out after your senior year in college, because then it's based on performance and not potential.
"That group that was so unheralded ... really started all this."
What "this" is, is a fourth consecutive top 20 class sewn up by Swinney, recruiting coordinator Jeff Scott, first-year director of recruiting Thad Turnipseed and the Tigers' coaching and support staffs.
In 2011 and 2012, Clemson rated higher than South Carolina in final February recruiting team ratings via Rivals.com, 247Sports.com and ESPN Recruiting. In 2010, 2013 and 2014, the Tigers did the deed on those three websites as well as Scout.com.
Obviously, South Carolina has lost the recruiting battles but won the wars in November over the past half-decade. However, Clemson has parlayed success on the recruiting trail into wins over the likes of Auburn, Florida State, LSU, Georgia and Ohio State, and Swinney figures he's reloading, not rebuilding, with these latest newcomers.
"Everything in college football is about personnel," Swinney said. "When you lose good guys, you've got to bring in good guys. We certainly just lost a good group of seniors, and this is a great group coming in here."
A total of 22 players officially signed their football careers away to Clemson on Wednesday. Five are already on campus and will participate in spring drills, while four will grayshirt, meaning their scholarships won't take effect until January 2015.
Quarterback Deshaun Watson, linebacker Chris Register and receivers Demarre Kitt, Kyrin Priester and Artavis Scott filed their financial aid agreements last fall, meaning Wednesday's announcements were purely academic for them.
"You know, I was at the basketball game last night, and a lot of people were asking me, why were you at the basketball game the night before signing day?" Scott said. "I said, one reason is, when your five-star quarterback is already on campus, you can sleep a little bit easier."
Another reason was the lack of drama across the board. All 19 of Clemson's verbal commits entering stayed strong, and the Tigers picked up one more in defensive end Richard Yeargin III, who was expected to pick Clemson all along.
"Last year we had our fair share (of drama). That was a very frustrating year when you deal with some of that," Swinney said. "But things work out the way they're supposed to. We did a really good job of identifying our guys."
Linebacker Jalen Williams and kicker Alex Spence won't be placed on scholarship until after the 2014 season. It's uncertain whether they'll pay their own way this fall or simply wait to enroll in courses next spring. J.D. and Judah Davis, the twin sons of Clemson director of player relations Jeff Davis, will do the same, which has been the plan since last summer.
Yeargin was the closest thing to a pleasant surprise for the Tigers on Wednesday, picking Clemson over Notre Dame, Florida, Arkansas and a late offer from new Texas coach Charlie Strong.
In fact, the easy storyline for Yeargin, a four-star defensive end from Fort Lauderdale, is he fell in love with the Tigers after watching them win the Orange Bowl a month ago in nearby Miami Gardens. But on Jan. 3, Yeargin was in Texas, presumably being wooed by Strong.
Yet he stuck with the Tigers.
"What really sold me was the team, the atmosphere, the coaches and the family-like culture that is displayed at Clemson," Yeargin said. "We're building something real special (on defense), with coach (Brent) Venables leading the way.
"We'll win a national championship within the next two years. I have no doubt about it."
A closer look at Clemson's class
BIGGEST SPLASH: The reason Jeff Scott, Chad Morris and the Tigers' fan base slept well Tuesday night: quarterback Deshaun Watson was already on campus, taking classes, and not back home in Gainesville, Ga., contemplating a last-minute change of heart.
ONE THAT GOT AWAY: Nobody who will keep the coaches up at night. Cory Thomas (Mississippi State) and Andrew Williams (Auburn) said "thanks but no thanks," but both would have had to wait a while to get their shot behind a stacked defensive line, and neither stayed in the ACC where they could haunt Clemson down the line.
WILL PLAY RIGHT AWAY: Chris Register, an early enrollee, has already bulked up to 240 pounds; Dabo Swinney calls him a "full-grown man" who will make noise in the front seven this spring. DE Richard Yeargin III also is hard to ignore at 6-4 and 225 pounds.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Jae'lon Oglesby is listed as a running back, but he'll be treated as an athlete by a developmental staff that loves its Daniel High School products. Also, tight end Milan Richard could be a factor in the opener against Georgia, where Richard's uncle was kind of famous: Herschel Walker.
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