Notable junior college transfers who starred at their schools:
2013: Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn; Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska
2012: Cordarelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
2011: Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri; Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU; John Jenkins, DT, Georgia; Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina
2010: Cam Newton, QB, Auburn; Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah; Lavonte David, LB, Nebraska
2009: Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, South Florida; Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
CLEMSON - A right tackle would have been nice, theoretically. A running back and a cornerback - heck, even a quarterback - might have intrigued.
When there's been a need for just one more experienced farmhand at a particular position, a few college football programs have known right where to find him.
Sometimes used sparingly, sometimes mined like the California gold rush, junior college recruits have added a wrinkle to the recruiting process each winter. Generally, they're high-reward, low-risk, but the minority is those who have soared to success with a four-year school because many prospects come sidled with baggage.
It's just not how Clemson rolls.
"They're an emphasis everywhere but here," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "Those junior college guys sign everywhere; I don't know when the last time we signed a junior college guy here."
That would be 2006, when former Colorado and Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College player Chris Russell suited up for two seasons as a backup free safety to Chris Clemons. Before that, Cory Groover lettered 2004-05 as a defensive tackle out of Southwest Mississippi C.C.
Russell and Groover were two-star recruits, neither making a major on-field impact. The last eight Clemson classes - six with Swinney in the head chair - have come and gone sans junior college players.
"I definitely believe in developing through the draft, if you will, as opposed to the free agent market," Swinney said, favoring high school recruiting focus over junior college. "I believe in having a good draft and developing our players. I've always believed that way."
It's rare at South Carolina, too, though the Gamecocks took in defensive tackle Abu Lamin (Fort Scott C.C. in Kansas) and defensive end Jhaustin Thomas (Trinity Valley C.C. in Texas) last Wednesday, USC's first juco signees in four years.
The advantages of plucking a juco recruit: they're older, bigger, stronger, usually more independent. Drawbacks: there's a reason they're there in the first place, whether it's getting grades in order or a troubled personal background. Many end up falling through the cracks, but a few gems are studs waiting to happen.
The most famous landing spot is Auburn, whose last two national championship game quarterbacks came from the juco ranks.
After getting dismissed from Georgia for allegations of theft, Nick Marshall was plucked from Garden City (Kan.) and switched from cornerback to his high school position, quarterback. One of Gus Malzahn's first acts as Auburn's head coach last winter was getting Marshall to take the reins. Marshall was one of six jucos to sign with Auburn in 2013.
Back when Malzahn was Auburn's offensive coordinator from 2009-11, he was known for turning former Florida passer Cam Newton - who didn't play during the Tim Tebow era, also was arrested for theft and ended up at Blinn (Texas) College - into a Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 overall NFL draft selection.
It wasn't just Marshall and Newton's talent; it was Auburn needing a capable passer. Round peg, round hole.
"From time to time, there is a specific need," Swinney said. "Maybe you had a couple juniors leave early or something, and there's a great left tackle out there."
The Tigers' most glaring needs for 2014 are offensive tackle, running back and cornerback; not for lack of depth, but a need for perhaps one immediate contributor with some experience at the post-high school level.
However, it's more than just Swinney's personal preference that precludes Clemson from the tactic. The university has strict academic policies which complicate any transfer's intentions to join the Tigers.
"They have to meet certain requirements for progress towards a degree. That's an NCAA rule," Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich said. "So you have to have the flexibility within your academic programs to be able to receive that type of individual."
Current basketball forward Ibrahim Djambo is the Tigers' first juco hoopster since 2003.
"So is it impossible to get in?" Radakovich said. "No. It just hasn't been a focus."
Radakovich told The Post and Courier he's looking to figuring out how to open Clemson's doors to more transfers, though his previous employer, Georgia Tech, did not bother with juco recruiting while rival Georgia did plenty.
"What we need to do is continue to define a path for a junior college player," Radakovich said. "One of the things we're going to do with our academic folks on campus is really dig in and understand what kind of path there could be. We've had some preliminary conversations. They're open to the investigation and looking at how we could go about that.
"Whether it's utilized? Don't know."
Swinney's content to proudly point out Clemson's four-year streak of fielding a top-15 ranked recruiting class, according to ESPN.com, one of eight schools to do that. In the Tigers' last 14 games, they're 3-1 in games agains that group, beating LSU, Georgia and Ohio State with a loss to Florida State.
"So we're recruiting at the highest level and competing at the highest level," Swinney said. "As long as we can continue to do that, we're going to be fine. We've just got to develop our guys."
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