WVU, Clemson hope to juice recruiting
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- You can't really beat this for exposure: Clemson and West Virginia are cruising around South Florida on buses plastered with pictures of their respective players and logos.
In the high-stakes world of recruiting, you cannot really put a price tag what that could mean for both schools as they spend a week here preparing for the Discover Orange Bowl on Wednesday night.
West Virginia, in particular, has made a living of late with players from this specific area. Both teams have a combined 29 players on their roster from the state of Florida, but the Mountaineers have nine from Miami, Fort Lauderdale or West Palm Beach.
That includes the all-important offensive trio of quarterback Geno Smith and receivers Stedman Bailey and Ivan McCartney -- all teammates at Miramar High School, a short drive from Sun Life Stadium. In fact, Smith grew up across the lake from the stadium.
So this makes the week not only huge for recruiting, but for players making a happy homecoming. Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins and West Virginia cornerback Brodrick Jenkins played in Fort Myers, located on the west coast of Florida and about a two-hour drive from the Miami area.
Their high school coach attended both Clemson and West Virginia practices Friday so he could see his former players.
"This is a dream come true," McCartney told reporters in Miami before a recent practice. "A lot of athletes don't get the chance to go home and play after leaving. I can't believe this. Can't even describe it."
For those players, the pressure to perform in front of family and friends is even greater. They want to put on a good show for the hometown crowd. Every player from the area has gotten an overflow of ticket requests. "Everyone's going to be there," Smith said. "Everyone's raving about it. I've got long-lost cousins talking about coming to the game."
If you need further proof of how important this game is to the local players, just look at what West Virginia safety Eain Smith told linebacker Najee Goode before they left Morgantown for Christmas break:
"Eain Smith always tells me, even when I dropped him off at the airport for break, 'We can't lose this game,' " Goode said. "So I told him we aren't going to lose it. Hands down we aren't going to lose this, because he can't come back home for the rest of his life and hear that we lost a BCS game in the Orange Bowl."
This is the first appearance for West Virginia in the Orange Bowl; Clemson is back for the first time in 30 years.
"Historically, at Clemson, we have had some of our greatest players from [Florida]," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "The exposure that you get, the marketing that you get all throughout the state, your brand is promoted. You can't put a price on that."
The majority of players from Florida on Clemson's roster are from north Florida. The Tigers only have one commitment from a player in this state for 2012. West Virginia has 10, including five from the South Florida area.
There is no doubting why pipelines to this state are important. Florida offers so much high school talent, schools from around the country hope to make any inroads they can to help bolster their rosters.
"The competition is something different from anywhere in the country, so that's what makes Florida, the pipeline, so special," Smith said.
Those pipelines are generally carried over from one coaching staff to the next, which is why West Virginia has been successful recruiting in South Florida under coaches Don Nehlen, Bill Stewart and now Dana Holgorsen.
"The exposure in South Florida is big," Holgorsen said. "Obviously this is a big recruiting base for us and we have at least a dozen kids from this area the way it is. But just the overall aspect of a BCS game, the Orange Bowl -- dating back to 1935 -- and having a tremendous amount of exposure on national TV and historically just having as many good games as they've had over the course of the last 80 years is something we understand and respect. The whole overall exposure from a national standpoint is every bit as important as it is from a local standpoint."
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No disrespect to the other 34 bowls, but they've only whetted our appetites until the main course is served, SEC-style. Gene Wojciechowski »