Clemson's class of 2011 shows even five-stars far from sure bets

Clemson's Sammy Watkins catches a 27-yard touchdown pass against West Virginia Wednesday.

Clemson's Sammy Watkins catches a 27-yard touchdown pass against West Virginia Wednesday.

— Feb. 2, 2011, was one of the better days in recent history for Clemson football.

Dabo Swinney stood behind a lectern in the WestZone’s spacious team room and discussed his 2011 signing class, which, earlier that day, had closed with an absolute bang.

Five-star linebackers Stephone Anthony and Tony Steward chose Clemson in nationally-televised announcements, giving the program some badly –needed buzz following its first losing season in 12 years.

“Today is one of those special days," Swinney said. “…College football is about personnel. You look at the group we are getting here and it's easy to get excited. I can't help but smile."

Why not? Anthony and Steward gave the class four consensus five-star signees, joining tailback Mike Bellamy and wide receiver Sammy Watkins.

Their additions lofted the class into the top 10 nationally, and created buzz. This was supposed to be a class that took Clemson from college football’s middle class into its penthouse, adding much-needed speed and game-breaking ability on both sides of the ball.

15 months later, it has become clear why the BCS awards a championship trophy in early January, not the first Wednesday in February.

Recruiting classes need time to receive a true evaluation of their worth, and as the Tigers’ class of 2011 begins its second year on campus, it has apparent successes, defined failures, and those who fall somewhere in the middle.

That is best illustrated by looking at the Tigers’ five-star quartet.

Watkins is the class’s most obvious success: he scored his first career touchdown 26 seconds into the season and never looked back. He was the consensus national freshman of the year and only the third true freshman to be named to the Associated Press’ first-team All-America squad, joining Herschel Walker and Adrian Peterson. He played a huge role in Clemson’s first ACC title since 1991.

Anthony finished strong, starting the final four games as he learned Kevin Steele’s complicated defense.

This spring, he cemented his role under new defensive coordinator Brent Venables, ending spring as the starting middle linebacker while former starter Corico Hawkins was forced outside to compete with Jonathan Willard.

Steward wasn’t as fortunate. While rehabbing from a torn ACL that curtailed his senior season of high school, he played 38 snaps in five games, making five tackles. Then he tore his other ACL during a routine practice, ending his season.

The NCAA denied Clemson’s appeal for a redshirt season, saying Steward had played more than the maximum allowable games.

Steward is expected to be ready for this season, but he’ll take the field with a pair of rebuilt ACLs, and whether he’ll ever reach his potential remains unclear.

The final five-star has the most star-crossed story.

Bellamy took his first collegiate carry 75 yards for a touchdown against Troy, and his 31-yard score iced a monumental 23-3 win at Virginia Tech. But he struggled with discipline and learning Chad Morris’ offense, and was suspended for the Orange Bowl after being sent home from the ACC title game.

He earned his way back onto the roster this spring, but last week, Clemson announced that Bellamy was academically ineligible for fall and will transfer to a junior college.

His high school coach, Binky Waldrop, said this spring that it was “a miracle he’s made it this far,” citing a troubled background that included an utter lack of parental involvement.

If Bellamy is to overcome those odds, he’ll do it elsewhere.

All four five-stars have their own hurdles to overcome. Watkins’ status for the beginning of 2012 is uncertain after he was arrested for possession of marijuana and ADHD drugs; Swinney is expected to issue a ruling on his punishment soon.

College coaches love to refer to national signing day as Christmas morning – the day they can open up their presents.

Even the shiniest gifts can wind up in the trash heap, though. Remember that the next time you obsess over the latest verbal commitment or signing.

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Comments » 6

savagetiger writes:

Point blank. Whether we lose a 5 star RB, or our most popular player gets in trouble, it doesnt matter! We are just realoading and reloading! Mark my words; CLEMSON is coming, and theres not a team in the country who will stop us.

kayaks68200#243027 writes:

in response to CannotStopTheVoice:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Bashing? There was nothing in that article that could be considered bashing, just a statement of the facts as they are. Take off your orange colored glasses and calm down.

lhaselden writes:

I think this staff has shown an excellent ability to evaluate talent, sometimes signing 2 star players like Humphries and sometimes a 5 star like Watkins. If a player start games for us for 1, 2, or 3 years then that was a successful recruit. Looking forward to watching the Tigers play again this year.

MoncksTater writes:

Yeah , I can see where someone would see some "Clemson Bash" in what he wrote ... although ideally there just isnt any way to write truthful asessments of quasi-failure without getting kind of negative.

jvarn77 writes:

Other than Bellamy there is no failure or bust. Getting the best recruits matters,its not by chance that alabama is dominating,just look at what they sign,then look what they put into the nfl.

jvarn77 writes:

I am disgusted at this site for requesting an FOI... yall are supposed to be on Clemson's side.

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