CLEMSON — 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.
“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."
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.