CLEMSON, S.C. --- Clemson coach Dabo Swinney's biggest thrill Wednesday came as he watched the National Letter of Intent roll in from a linebacker who'll likely never make a tackle for the Tigers.
Swinney's group of 23 signees included Jake Nicolopulos of Anderson, S.C., whose dream of playing college football ended in December when he suffered a stroke.
Nicolopulos couldn't talk, walk or write after major surgery to relieve pressure on his brain. Nearly two months later, he improved enough to sign his letter and speak with Swinney.
"When I saw that fax come through, it brought a smile to my face," Swinney said.
The Tigers will honor Nicolopulos' scholarship and find a role for him with the program, like the school did for former linebacker Scotty Cooper and offensive lineman J.K. Jay. Cooper was forced to give up football because of seizures.
Jay had a back injury that left him at risk for more serious injuries if he continued playing.
Swinney said the rest of his new class of recruits filled vital needs at wide receiver, tight end and defensive line. The team's final two commitments Wednesday in running back D.J. Howard of Lincoln, Ala., and linebacker Justin Parker of Beaufort, S.C., closed out a group ranked 17th in the country by ESPN, 18th by Rivals.com and 23rd by Scout.com.
But Swinney made sure Wednesday no one forgot Nicolopulos.
He was a fast, hard-hitting linebacker who starred at T.L. Hanna High about 20 minutes or so from Clemson's campus. Nicolopulos accepted Clemson's scholarship a year ago, almost as soon as it was offered, Tigers offensive line coach Brad Scott remembered.
Nicolopulos' parents, Craig and mother Ann, were told by doctors their son might not survive. He did make it, assisted by surgery that removed part of his skull cap to relieve pressure on his brain.
Immediately after word of Nicolopulos' condition reached the Tigers, Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips pledged to Swinney the players' scholarship would be honored and maintained.
"He will be a part of this family," Swinney said.
Dabo Swinney: Clemson coach ended up with 23 players in his first recruiting class as the Tigers head coach.