CLEMSON — The protégé dared defy the master, and in this case, Jeff Scott was probably right to do so.
A little while after Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney spoke of resting easily in the closing days approaching National Signing Day, Scott took the podium punctuating his final class as recruiting coordinator and admitted, yes, he did hold his breath until all the horses were in the stable.
“Am I supposed to give the same answer Coach Swinney gave? Maybe he wasn’t worried,” Scott said, laughing nervously.
With 15 freshmen already enrolled in classes as of January, the Tigers weren’t done signing, sealing and delivering one of their hottest recruiting classes in school history. Primarily, Clemson sweat it out for 5-star wide receiver prospects Ray-Ray McCloud and Deon Cain from the Tampa area, longtime verbal commits who took a peek at Florida and Auburn, respectively, late in the game.
McCloud and Cain each faxed their national letters of intent before 8 a.m. Wednesday, in the first hour allowable.
“I’ve been doing it long enough to know it’s never easy, it’s never quiet,” Scott said. “You have to trust a year and a half, two years of relationships. That’s what it comes down to.”
Cain and McCloud, paired with offensive tackle Mitch Hyatt, give Clemson a trio of 5-star recruits via Rivals.com, which ranks the Tigers fourth among classes of 2015. ESPN RecruitingNation ranks Clemson fourth, while 247Sports.com has the Tigers eighth and Scout.com 15th.
Scott commended co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott — the pair were each primary recruiters for Cain and McCloud — for “hand-delivering” the Florida duo to Clemson, presenting the Tigers more skill players from the Sunshine State in the mold of C.J. Spiller and Sammy Watkins.
“It wasn’t just withstanding this last official visit weekend; there were a lot of bumps in the road, and arrows coming our way the last year and a half,” Scott said. “I can tell you, talking to both Deon and Ray-Ray this morning, they’re fired up about Clemson and can’t wait to get here, and we feel the same way.”
For the most part, it was an anticlimactic day for Clemson, devoid of the hat ceremonies or last-minute flips that run rampant across the country. As head coach Dabo Swinney said Wednesday and has on numerous occasions, the Tigers identified who they wanted early, and their targets who accepted offers stuck to their commitments.
“They didn’t want to deal with the hassle,” Swinney said. “That’s why I wish we had an early signing period. Maybe someday that will happen.”
Clemson has won 42 games the last four years, and it was a large senior group departing campus as program’s winningest class ever. In all, the Tigers have 26 commits coming to Clemson in 2015, with heavy emphasis on the line of scrimmage.
Seven defensive linemen, led by blue-chip tackle Albert Huggins from Orangeburg and Christian Wilkins of Longmeadow, Mass., will look to fill the void left by all-ACC performers Vic Beasley and Grady Jarrett plus key starters Corey Crawford and DeShawn Williams.
“You just look at the need. Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know we’re probably going to need a little help there on the defensive line,” Swinney said. “Who it is, I don’t know.”
Four offensive linemen, notably Hyatt and Jake Fruhmorgen, could be in position to contribute or even start from day one. That’s because Clemson lost three offensive line starters to graduation, and only have two true tackles available on the returning roster.
“It’s, to me, the toughest position to play as a freshman. But these aren’t raw guys rolling in here,” Swinney said. “These guys know how to play offensive line, and they love it. Everybody’s going to get a chance to compete, and the best players are going to play.”
Hyatt, Fruhmorgen, Zach Giella and Noah Green are each 6-5 or taller, and all four are listed as weighing at least 270 pounds before starting a college training program.
“Their foundation is very, very strong. They know what they have to do,” Swinney said. “I think their learning curve will be much shorter than a typical offensive lineman, but it’s still very difficult. But the sheer fact that the depth has been a problem, they’re going to have a great opportunity to get in the mix.”