CLEMSON — When Robert Nkemdiche stunned the college football world by committing to Clemson in mid-June, the very idea that his commitment was anything but 100 percent solid was met with derision – and even delusion – by Clemson fans.
I dared broach the idea that the franchise defensive end and the nation’s No.1 overall recruit would reconsider his decision on my Twitter account, and received nothing but anger in response.
My Twitter follower count dropped. Angry emails popped into my inbox. I was accused of being a South Carolina fan, an SEC fan and worse.
How could anyone doubt his commitment?
Four months later, Nkemdiche’s recruitment has unfolded into the saga most observers expected it would be.
While the Loganville, Ga., native remains committed to Clemson and coach Dabo Swinney, his decision could come down to the first Wednesday in February – national signing day – fraying the nerves of Clemson coaches and recruiting followers in the process.
Friday night, Nkemdiche was asked following Grayson High School’s game when he expected to finalize his choice.
“I think probably when I sign the paper,” he told 247 Sports.
Before that happens, he’ll likely be pushed, pulled, cajoled and harangued by hopeful coaches, fans, recruiting analysts, and, yes, family.
At 6-foot-4, 268 pounds, Nkemdiche is a game-changer, an excellent blend of power, speed and athleticism. He’d be an immediate starter on Clemson’s defensive line. Through six games, the Tigers’ defensive ends have combined for two sacks, both from sophomore Vic Beasley. Senior starter Malliciah Goodman has 11 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and no sacks in 279 snaps.
Nkemdiche would be Clemson’s answer to South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney, a fearsome pass rusher whom Swinney heavily courted before finishing second to Steve Spurrier.
Trouble is, everyone else realizes this, too: he has suggested that he will take official visits to Oregon, Southern California and possibly LSU.
But Clemson’s biggest competitor is, surprisingly, Ole Miss, which creates a complicated family dynamic.
Nkemdiche’s older brother, Denzel, is an emerging star redshirt freshman linebacker for the Rebels. They have their own charismatic leader in first-year head coach Hugh Freeze, who rose to fame as the high school coach of left tackle Michael Oher, whose story was memorialized in the hit book and movie “The Blind Side”.
Their mother, Beverly, is a Nigerian legislator; Robert has lived in the Atlanta area with his father, Sunday, but has also lived with members of the Grayson coaching staff, including head coach Mickey Conn, who was Swinney’s college roommate at Alabama.
Beverly told ESPN that she wasn’t happy with her son’s commitment to Clemson, saying his decision “is not final.”
“We had never discussed Clemson, and I am unhappy with Clemson,” she said. “I'm not there, so I don't know for certain, but I feel like Robert was pressured into this decision."
She reportedly prefers her sons play together; Robert has made multiple unofficial visits to Ole Miss this fall. Following one visit, he tweeted out a picture of he and Denzel in matching Rebel uniforms. He has also made visits to Clemson – following the Ball State game, quarterback Tajh Boyd made a point to seek him out in the tunnel and speak with him.
Here’s the big question: does Nkemdiche choose friends or family? Shortly before he committed to Clemson, Grayson teammates Wayne Gallman and David Kamara pledged to the Tigers, and Nkemdiche later said that if Clemson offered teammate Ryan Carter – a fringe prospect who has been offered by Ole Miss – it would seal his allegiance. He quickly retracted the comment, saying it was misconstrued.
Ole Miss appears confident that Nkemdiche will wind up in their camp.
“I’m not going to be surprised,” Denzel told an SBNation.com reporter, “when he flips.”
Counting out Swinney – one of college football’s best recruiters – would be a fool’s errand. He stunned observers by snatching tailback C.J. Spiller from under Florida’s nose, and taking five-star linebacker Tony Steward from Florida State’s clutches was equally surprising.
He and recruiting coordinator Jeff Scott have established themselves as excellent closers, and a force SEC staffs should reckon with.
Keeping Nkemdiche in the fold is their biggest challenge yet.
Want the final answer? Tune in on national signing day. The show is only beginning.