Clemson coach Tommy Bowden began watching the faxes roll in at 6:30 a.m. Wednesday. Four hours later, Bowden said he had signed a recruiting class that might be his best in seven years with the Tigers.
The bonus came just before lunchtime. Antonio Clay of Jefferson, Ga., who reportedly had committed to Oklahoma, chose Clemson over the Sooners and Florida State.
The fax from Clay, a highly touted linebacker with speed and athleticism, didn't come in until 11:32 a.m., according to Clemson's Web site.
"Until all the faxes get in, you never really feel comfortable," Bowden said.
But even if the Tigers hadn't signed Clay, who comes in at a position where Clemson lacks depth, Bowden would've been pleased with this year's group.
In all, the Tigers signed 25 players, including nine from the Palmetto State, one more than in-state rival South Carolina.
While recruiting analysts have ranked recent Gamecock classes ahead of Clemson's in five of the past six years, Bowden said this year is different.
"I think with this class we're closing the gap on them," the coach said. "The objective is to win the ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference), but again, being a state school, you better beat your state rival.
"If we can close the gap on them, then I think we can close it against Florida State, Miami, Virginia Tech and be competitive."
Bowden said several factors contributed to this year's recruiting success: the players were comfortable on campus, facilities are in the midst of renovations, and the Tigers had big victories over Florida State, Miami and Tennessee in the past 15 games.
Everything hasn't been rosy in Tigertown, though.
Bowden had to overcome negative publicity after the Tigers' on-field brawl with South Carolina, which ultimately led to several players being suspended and the team staying home for the postseason despite becoming bowl eligible with the season-ending win.
Bowden also fired three assistants, including his offensive and defensive coordinators, after a 6-5 season that began with a Top 25 ranking and high expectations.
"I think it says a lot about Clemson University because there were one or two distractions - hurdles - that we had to overcome," Bowden said. "There were some pretty high-profile guys that committed early that never deviated."
Some of those recruits from South Carolina include linebacker Josh Miller and receiver Rendrick Taylor as well as offensive linemen Harry Humphries and Cory Lambert.
And the Tigers picked up running back James Davis of Douglass High School in Atlanta, whose combination of size, speed and vision could make an impact early.
"He's got several things I think are really going to benefit him," said Bowden, who wouldn't specifically name players he thought could make a contribution next season.
"If he's good enough to play his freshman year, he's probably not going to be here in three years anyway. If I'd redshirted Justin Miller I'd have wasted a year," Bowden said of the cornerback who decided to enter the NFL draft this year following his junior season.
The Tigers also signed five offensive lineman with size and "lean body mass."
"I think from top to bottom, by far (this is) the most productive class we've brought in," he said. "Sure, they've got to come in and play."
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