It has been nearly a week since Robert Nkemdiche’s surprising commitment to Clemson and a lot of people – especially those from Alabama, LSU and Ole Miss – want to know:
Did it really happen?
Yes, it did. The nation’s No. 1 overall college football prospect did commit to Clemson. It was surprising for many reasons, including the timing of it (Robert could’ve waited until it was time to report next summer).
Nkemdiche’s high school coach at Grayson, Mickey Conn, provided some insight on the situation. He actually drove Nkemdiche last Wednesday to Clemson for summer camp, and says he had “no idea” that Robert intended to commit.
“Oh no, I had no idea,” Conn said. “I drove him up there because he wanted to go. I thought he was going to commit in February and I didn’t know where. I had no idea he was going to do it last week.
“But then he decided that’s what he wanted to do. I think he really fell in love with the coaches and players there. Two of his best friends [DB David Kamara and RB Wayne Gallman, both of Grayson] were offered by Clemson and had committed. Robert thought about it, decided that’s what he wanted to do, and then that’s what he did.”
Some more questions with Conn:
You roomed together and played college football at Alabama with Dabo Swinney. How much did your friendship with Swinney play into it? “I didn’t try to influence Robert in any way. Coach Swinney, his personality and the way he recruits, it speaks for itself. I tried to stay out of it. The kid needed a ride to Clemson, and I gave him a ride up there. And he really enjoyed it. This was all Robert’s decision.”
What was Dabo’s reaction? “He was ecstatic. They just got the No. 1 player in the country. They were extremely excited. This was the first time that he’s ever signed the No. 1 player in the country at Clemson. He signed the No. 1 wide receiver and No. 1 running back. But this was the first time he landed the No. 1 overall player in America. It’s a huge deal for Clemson, and it’s a huge deal for the ACC conference to land a guy like Robert Nkemdiche.”
What has been the general reaction from everybody? “Naturally, everybody wanted Robert to come to their school. The people from Clemson are extremely excited. The people from Georgia and Alabama are not as excited. But at the same time, I think everybody is happy that Robert made his decision, and that’s where he wants to go. I think people are proud for him.”
Have you heard from other colleges? “Yes, there have been some other schools to call to make sure it’s legitimate and really happened. It did.”
Which school was the runner-up? “I think it was LSU. Robert liked how he fits into the Clemson defensive scheme, as opposed to LSU.”
Are the other schools, including LSU and Alabama, going to continue to recruit him? “I think they are going to keep recruiting him. He hasn’t signed anything. Until these kids sign the dotted line, you’ve always got a chance. Robert was pretty firm with his commitment, which is what surprised me because I thought he might wait until he took all of his official visits in December and January. But he was excited about his teammates going to Clemson, and I guess Robert was ready.”
So I hear UGA was never really in it for Robert? “He loves Coach Richt and Georgia did a good job recruiting him, but the campus was too big. There were just too many people there, the campus was too big.”
Will Robert take official visits to schools other than Clemson? “No, I think he’s done with that. He made it clear to Dabo that Clemson is where he wanted to go. Dabo gave him the opportunity to even take back the commitment if he still wasn’t sure and he wanted to take some more visits. Robert said ‘No, this is what I want to do.’ I think he’s pretty firm with Clemson.”
Robert’s brother plays at Ole Miss. You don’t think he will burn an official visit out there just to watch his brother play? “I’m sure he’ll go out there but not as a recruit. His brother gets four courtesy tickets to each game, and I’m sure he’ll go to one.”
Now seeing how it all worked out, do you think some other schools wish they had offered both Kamara and Gallman, too? “Nobody has said anything to me about it but I have no idea.”
Do you think Robert’s recruiting is going to calm down now that he’s committed? “No, I think it’s going to get crazier, if you want to know the truth. People are not going to give up. This is America. People don’t give up in America until it’s all done. I think this is going to make other schools press harder to get him. Commitments these days don’t mean the same as they used to do years ago. When you sign the dotted line, that’s when it is official. I think Robert’s commitment is his word. That’s what he said down at Clemson. But you don’t ever know. He’s 17 years old. He’s got a lot of pressure on him. He’s 17 years old, and there’s a lot of people pulling him in different directions. You never know.”
Are you going to shield him from other colleges now that he’s committed to Clemson? “If Robert says he doesn’t want to talk to people, we’ll take away those calls as they come in. If he wants to continue to talk to other people, that’s fine, too. We’ll let that be Robert’s decision. But, no, he hasn’t asked for any help. Robert is pretty good at handling this himself.”
You played football on Alabama’s 1992 national championship team. Are you catching a lot of grief since Robert didn’t pick the Crimson Tide? “I am. That’s a hard thing for me. I’m an Alabama guy but I’ve lived my college life and done what I needed to do. This is Robert’s time, and I’m extremely proud of his choice.”
What about the endless rumors that you were going to deliver Robert to Alabama because you played there? “I heard them. But I didn’t put any pressure on this kid, and I wouldn’t do that to anybody. This is his life to live. That’s just the way I believe.”
Clemson has one of the nation’s largest student organizations for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and spirituality is part of Dabo’s recruiting pitch. How much was that a factor? “That was very important to Robert. I just think with him, Clemson was the family-type of atmosphere he was looking for. That’s what he considers for him to be family. They care about his spiritual development, as much as they do his physical development – and his social and emotional development. That was an aspect he felt he got at Clemson. That’s not a knock on LSU, Alabama, Georgia or anywhere else because they have team chaplains and everything. But Robert felt like it was stronger at Clemson.”
Thanks to Mickey. I’ve been asked a ton of questions about Nkemdiche over the last week, and let’s review some: (Note: My answers are my opinions based on conversations with Robert and people around him)
Are you surprised with Clemson? Yes. But when you take a step back and look at the big picture, Clemson makes a lot of sense. No. 1, it’s far enough away from home (100 miles from Grayson High School) but also close enough where Robert’s support group can always be there on a moment’s notice. No. 2, there’s not as many distractions at Clemson (not even a Chick-fil-A, as one recruit incorrectly claimed), which Robert’s supporters approve, because, barring an injury or unforeseen away from the field troubles, he will have the opportunity to play football for a very long time. No. 3 and most importantly, Robert will have his best friend (Kamara) and another good friend (Gallman) attending Clemson with him, which automatically made him feel comfortable even if he never visited Clemson. Since Robert has been at Grayson, he has lived in the houses of coaches and teammates – so they’re all like family.
Which person has the biggest influence on Robert’s decision? The first theory was his coach, who played for Alabama. Since being coach at Grayson, Conn has never had a player that was offered by Alabama not sign with Alabama. The next theory was his brother, who signed with Ole Miss. Blood is thicker than water, but not when Ole Miss is so far away? The key player turned out to be David Kamara, who is Robert’s best friend since middle school. In my opinion, if Kamara does not commit to Clemson neither does Robert. No chance. That will always make LSU fans wonder what would’ve happened if Kamara would’ve gotten that LSU offer he so desperately wanted. Gallman wasn’t as much of a factor but it is interesting to note that he might’ve not committed to Clemson had he gotten that FSU offer he so desperately wanted. Everything fell into place and Dabo Swinney capitalized like a recruiting champion. It was like Lane Kiffin all over again. Remember when Lane Kiffin was at Tennessee and lured Da’Rick Rogers away from UGA? Basically, Kiffin didn’t even acknowledge Rogers and walked straight to his best friend Nash Nance, convincing him that he wanted him regardless of where Rogers was signing. Nance flipped from Vanderbilt to Tennessee and you know the rest of the story. This brings us back to Kamara, who was told emphatically by Dabo that he was wanted at Clemson regardless of where Nkemdiche was going. That’s not to knock Kamara because he is a legitimate 3-star prospect. But the Clemson coaches definitely knew the connection, and the strategy played out to perfection.
Which college is the biggest threat to Clemson? It sounds like LSU, since they were the runners-up. What if LSU offers Kamara? It could get interesting but I still think they are a longshot because it’s so far away. I think the biggest threat is Ole Miss, especially if Robert’s parents get more involved. I still think Robert will end up taking an official visit to Ole Miss to see his brother play there. Ole Miss already has an offer on the table to Kamara, and I thought it was very, very interesting – OK, brilliant — that Ole Miss put out a new offer on Tuesday to Grayson DB Ryan Carter – who is another one of Nkemdiche’s best friends. Could Clemson make a counter move and offer Carter to secure Robert? Carter is another legit D1 prospect, and has been talking to Clemson. Yes, I could see that happening.
Is there any good news for UGA out of all of this? Yes. The longer that Robert stayed uncommitted, the longer that UGA had to spend resources monitoring Nkemdiche. Even if UGA was never in the race, it would’ve looked bad if the Bulldogs weren’t trying, if only for PR purposes, with the nation’s No. 1 prospect only 30 minutes away from campus. UGA obviously would’ve loved to have gotten Nkemdiche but with him picking Clemson, it also may help them with guys like DT Montravius Adams, who once had the Tigers as his early leader.
What about Nick Saban? Will Alabama still go after Nkemdiche? That’s what everybody is waiting to see. He’s the best combination of football coach and recruiting coordinator in the country. Alabama will probably still end up with the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class, with or without Nkemdiche. One reason Saban is a world-class recruiter is that he knows when to cut his losses (as exemplified by recently throwing out a lot of offers to Georgia QBs until he got one). If Alabama pretty much wraps up his 2013 class early (and it’s looking that way), he may launch an all-out assault to get Nkemdiche. Personally, I can’t see Robert going to Alabama without a Grayson teammate or coach, and Saban doesn’t traditionally do the “package deal” thing. So I don’t see it happening. Then again, a month ago, I didn’t see Nkemdiche committing to Clemson. That’s why we love recruiting. Always unpredictable.
Those are my opinions. What are yours? Please post below.
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– By Michael Carvell, AJC Recruiting Blog
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