Racially-charged voicemail targeted No. 1 recruit, who chose Michigan over Clemson

Paramus Catholic High School defensive tackle Rashan Gary, a top high school football recruit, committed to Michigan on National Signing Day on Feb. 3 in Paramus, N.J. He was the subject of a racially-charged voicemail left with his high school’s athletic department in January. (File/AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

CLEMSON — A bizarre voicemail shook up the recruitment period of Rashan Gary, the No. 1 high school recruit in the country who decided on National Signing Day to attend Michigan over Clemson.

Gary, a 6-5, 290-pound defensive tackle from Paramus, N.J., announced his choice of Michigan on Feb. 3, after reserving his final official visit for Clemson five days prior to Signing Day.

The Record (Bergen County, N.J.) reported in its Sunday edition that Gary’s high school, Paramus Catholic, received a racially-based, threatening voicemail in the athletic department in the early morning of Jan. 28, or the day before Gary’s official visit to Clemson.

The caller left a 58-second voicemail, identifiying himself as “Clemson Dan” and saying, “This message is for Mr. Rashan Gary. We just wantin’ to know if you’re coming down here for a visit, you better be serious about it, ‘cause there’s only two things we love and that’s Clemson football and the KKK.”

“So you better not be fooling around: if you’re gonna get a visit, you better be commitin’,” the voicemail continued. “Just be aware, this ain’t no fooling thing. We Clemson. We big-time football down here.”

At the time, Gary and his mother, Jennifer Coney, were in Atlanta for Gary’s acceptance of the Bobby Dodd Award honoring him as the best high school lineman in the country, according to the newspaper.

When Gary and Coney traveled from Atlanta to Clemson for his official visit, Coney and Clemson officials had been made aware of the voicemail. Paramus Catholic school president Jim Vail contacted Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables, Gary’s primary recruiter, to ask Clemson to ensure Gary’s safety, according to the paper.

Although Coney revealed to The Record she felt uncomfortable with the voicemail, the visit went on as scheduled.

Clemson associate athletic director Joe Galbraith released this statement Monday to The Post and Courier: “Mr. Vail did indeed reach out to Coach Venables to inform him of the voicemail. Coach Venables immediately informed our recruiting office and football administrators about it, and they in turn notified the Clemson Police Department and the athletics compliance office.

“We have no evidence the person making this disturbing call is a Clemson supporter. By all accounts, Rashan had a wonderful visit to Clemson and we wish him the absolute best in his collegiate career.”

The matter remains an ongoing investigation by the Paramus Police Department, which is seeking the identity of the caller, who had blocked his phone number.

“This wasn’t a death threat, but it can be unnerving when you don’t know who it is,” Paramus detective Thomas Schroeder told the newspaper, which also reported Gary’s mother believes the caller was “absolutely not” a Clemson fan.

“It didn’t turn Rashan off of Clemson. He loved Clemson and so did I,” Coney told The Record. “I just think that he felt overall — not just as a football player — (Michigan) would be the place where he’d benefit the most from going to school.”

It is not unprecedented for high school recruits — whether by phone or on their social media accounts — to receive threatening messages from fans hoping to sway their decisions. Oftentimes, the true allegiance of such fans is unclear, as in this case.