MARYVILLE, Tenn. -- Jay Guillermo didn't need a 5-0 record or a top 10 ranking to know Clemson was where he wanted to play college football. But he's certainly enjoying the Tigers' rise.
"It's been pretty nice," the nation's top rated center said. "I talked to (Clemson safety commitment) Travis Blanks a little bit. Whenever we first committed, everybody was like 'Why did you pick Clemson? They're nothing. They're not even ranked in the top 25'"
Now they are. It's been an incredible run for the Tigers, who are now ranked eighth in the nation after beating the defending national champion Auburn Tigers, rival Florida State and Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va.,
The nation's top-rated center was a long-time Clemson fan, even though he's not sure why, so he was ready to commit as soon as the scholarship offer was extended.
"That was pretty cool," said a beaming Guillermo, who was officially introduced as a participant in the Under Armour All-American Game during a press conference in Maryville's weight room on Wednesday. It was part of the 80-stop American Family Insurance presents the Under Armour All-America Game selection tour.
Maryville coach George Quarles admitted that he played the recruiting game a bit with Guillermo or his star player might have committed even earlier. Quarles asked Guillermo to hold his commitment for a short time so other Rebels prospects could get the attention that came with playing alongside Guillermo. But once Guillermo announced his decision in February, Quarles was glad to have it out of the way.
"We've been really fortunate that most of ours have gone ahead and committed early so we've not had to deal with that a whole lot," Quarles said. "I know last spring was really hectic with having (North Carolina quarterback commitment) Patton (Robinette) being recruited by just tons of schools coming through here. It was great but it was a little bit of a pain.
"(Guillermo has) done all of us a favor by going ahead and committing. With Jay, there was never a doubt. He wanted to commit the first day they offered. We talked him into holding off just a little bit because we were thinking some of these other guys needed to get some looks. It worked out for them to. All those schools came in anyway. Jay is Clemson through and through."
That's evident by his mode of transportation, a half orange/half white pick-up truck with Clemson bumper stickers adorning the bumper and tailgate.
Guillermo, however, hasn't been too focused on college to limit his production at Maryville. That's been evident by his play on the field. In his second season at Maryville after moving from North Carolina, Guillermo has continued to blossom.
"So much further along this year than he was last year," Quarles said of the nation's 88th best prospect. "Most of that's just from understanding what we as Maryville High School coaches want out of our center. He came from a different offense. He's really caught on to the way we want it done.
"He's so much more explosive this year than he was last year and I think part of that is he isn't having to think nearly as much. He just goes out and plays. It's always pretty comforting knowing you're pretty solid at center. We've not had (center-quarterback) exchange problems or any of that stuff. That starts with Jay. Jay has taken pride in that."
Clemson's success could pay dividends well into the future for Guillermo. While offseason questions swirled around Swinney after a 6-7 record in 2010, the fourth-year coach is suddenly perceived much differently than he was just months ago.
"For him as a coach ... I think he's pretty solid at Clemson," Guillermo said. "I think he's kind of secured his spot for awhile."
And as for that wild Swinney that has been so entertaining during postgame celebrations, Guillermo said he's not quite like that all the time, "After games, he's kind of crazy but behind closed doors he's kind of a calm type person."
Dave Hooker covers Southeast and Atlantic Coast recruiting. He has covered recruiting and college football for more than a decade. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.