Dabo Swinney hopes for ability to recruit junior college players soon

Dabo Swinney and Chad Morris relax as the clock winds down against Georgia Tech in the fourth quarter.

Photo by Mark Crammer

Dabo Swinney and Chad Morris relax as the clock winds down against Georgia Tech in the fourth quarter.

Swinney previews Virginia Tech

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— Four years have passed since Clemson has signed a junior college recruit – a streak that shows few signs of ending.

In 2008, Tommy Bowden signed defensive end Jarrett Crittenton – a Memphis native by way of the North Dakota State College of Science. Crittenton was denied admission to Clemson and eventually wound up at Middle Tennessee State before a brief NFL career.

The Tigers haven’t signed a junior college recruit since, but Dabo Swinney wants that to change.

Swinney said Tuesday that he hopes upcoming curriculum changes will allow the program to recruit selectively in the JUCO ranks.

Clemson does not have a policy against junior college transfers. However, NCAA eligibility rules require players to reach a certain percentage of progress towards their degree each year, and CU has limited options for players to transfer class credits earned elsewhere and continue their education.

“The problem is having a degree program they can fit into,” he said. “It’s a moot point. Very few places to count electives. We’ll have some new curriculums coming on line in fall 2013 that hopefully will help us.”

Swinney pointed to his time at Alabama, where defensive end John Copeland played a huge role in the 1992 national title team, adding that impact transfers like defensive tackle Terrance Cody and quarterback Cam Newton have fueled recent national title runs.

“It’d be nice to recruit two or three great ones that fit our profile and character,” Swinney said. “We have the study halls and resources they need. It’s hard, a limiting factor, but it’s not something we can’t overcome. I’m fully confident we can build a great program that can compete consistently and nationally through our primary recruiting areas.

“But sometimes you need a left tackle, a cornerback, a great defensive end who can change the game. When you have a bunch of guys graduating you could use a veteran player.”

Ford on Mackey midseason list: Clemson senior tight end Brandon Ford is one of 25 players on the John Mackey Award midseason watch list, released Tuesday. The Mackey Award honors the nation’s top tight end; Ford’s predecessor, Dwayne Allen, won the award last fall.

Through six games, Ford has 20 receptions for 324 yards and four touchdowns, all second on Clemson’s roster behind wideout DeAndre Hopkins. Ford has caught at least one pass in every game this season and had a three-game streak with a touchdown catch, tying a Clemson record.

Ford left the Georgia Tech game with a sprained ankle, and said he’s about “90 percent” healthy, and hopes to be 100 percent by Saturday.

Injury update: Swinney said he expects to have Ford, tailback D.J. Howard and wide receiver Martavis Bryant available for Virginia Tech. Howard missed the Georgia Tech game with a shoulder injury, while Bryant missed the last two games after undergoing groin surgery for an injury sustained while lifting weights.

“D.J., to be honest, we’re pretty comfortable with him (as our backup tailback),” Swinney said. “He’s been limited, banged up and hasn’t been able to stay in the game. Injuries have messed with him. He’s had a banged-up shoulder and (tailback) is a tough position to play. The time off was probably best for him.”

Swinney said the open date helped his players get healthy, and added Clemson had “a long list of guys with bumps and bruises.”

“We got a head-start preparation wise and working on fundamentals,” he said. “(Monday) night at practice you could see the energy. You could see that guys were excited to get back to work. Guys had a bounce in their step that we hadn’t seen in a couple weeks. The bye week came at a good time.”

Young defenders: Swinney suggested that a pair of young defenders – freshman defensive tackle Carlos Watkins and sophomore linebacker Tony Steward – could see more playing time in the second half. Watkins was regarded as one of the nation’s top DT recruits but has seen only 29 defensive snaps; Steward, recovering from his second ACL tear in as many years, has 37 defensive snaps.

“(Watkins) is one that’s improving and he’s a very talented player – hopefully he’ll take the next step,” Swinney said. “(Steward) is fun to watch. It really looks like he’s got his confidence back. Last year at about this point I felt like he was just starting to take a step and we lost him for the year (with a torn ACL). We had to start over with him. He’s very engaged and dialed in and has been putting it together with confidence on the field.”

The presence of senior Tig Willard – who starts ahead of Steward at “Will” linebacker – doesn’t help matters. Willard leads Clemson with 51 tackles.

“Tig has been incredibly productive,” Swinney said. “Sometimes you get in a comfort zone with a guy like that as far as taking him out of the game.”

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