Still in the crosshairs
Commitment to Clemson hasn't stopped schools from chasing Nkemdiche
HOOVER, Ala. -- A month ago, Robert Nkemdiche (Loganville, Ga./Grayson) shocked the college football world. The No. 1 prospect in the 2013 class unexpectedly decided to commit to Clemson. The 6-foot-5 defensive end went to the school's campus in South Carolina with a pair of his closest teammates for an unofficial visit, and all three came back sporting orange-and-purple wristbands.
Nkemdiche said Clemson felt like family, that it felt like home. He looked into coach Dabo Swinney's eyes and believed he was a man of integrity, a man he could trust. What Nkemdiche saw from the staff was enough to separate Clemson from the rest of the country's top programs.
HOOVER, Ala. -- Robert Nkemdiche likes to fly by the seat of his pants. He doesn't have plans for every week of the summer, and his only goal for the fall is to take Grayson High (Loganville, Ga.) to another state championship. When he traveled to Clemson last month, he had no idea he was going to commit.
It just kind of happened.
That simple of an explanation will only go so far, though. That simple of an explanation leads to more complex theories that begin to border on conspiracy.
When Nkemdiche, the No. 1 recruit in the ESPN 150, committed to Clemson along with two of his teammates, more than a few eyebrows were raised. When a story came out saying that the star defensive end wanted another one of his friends to come to Clemson -- or else, being the implication -- the media went into a frenzy.
That's what gets Grayson coach Mickey Conn upset at the horde of reporters following Nkemdiche, each one looking for the angle that catches the most attention.
"They'll take words and angle questions," Conn said. "You're talking to a 17-year-old kid. They'll take what he says and -- boom! -- they'll go off with it and either make him look good or look bad."
That's what happened in the case of Nkemdiche's supposed demand, Conn said, setting the record straight.
"First off, his teammates did not have anything to do with it," Conn said at the National Select 7 on 7 Championships in Hoover on Thursday. "Those offers to them were based on merit. Those kids are good football players, great players."
Did those offers help Clemson's chances? Of course, said Conn, but it wasn't the determining factor.
"It's just like anything else. If your best friend is going somewhere and it's a major D1, BCS school, you're more likely to go with your friends than go somewhere and start over by yourself," he said. "There's a comfort level there that definitely influenced his decision."
Nkemdiche echoed his coach's statement. His friends joining him at Clemson isn't something he asked for, but it's not something he's going to shy away from either.
"I grew up with these guys, all of them are my boys," Nkemdiche said. "I'm, like, stuck to them. You can't really pull us apart."
It's just kind of happened that way, and he's happy it did.
-- Alex Scarborough
Ask Nkemdiche now -- as so many have -- and he is 100 percent committed to Clemson. It helps that two of his teammates are coming with him.
But that doesn't mean coaches have stopped calling. In fact, it has gotten worse.
"People are trying to get me to their school even more," Nkemdiche said. "It's crazy."
Grayson coach Mickey Conn insisted that Nkemdiche is still "the same old Robert" but added that the pressure from recruiters hasn't waned.
"It's maybe even more aggressive," Conn said.
Nkemdiche said programs continue to "open up the red carpet" for him, most notably Alabama, Ole Miss, LSU and Georgia. Really, everyone has remained involved.
When Nkemdiche went to spend time with his brother in Oxford, Miss., the news leaked on Twitter. People assumed just because he was in the same town as Ole Miss, it was for an unofficial visit. Ole Miss fans got excited, and Clemson fans got upset.
For Nkemdiche, it was another lesson learned. He took to Twitter and tried to calm the storm and explain the situation.
"It's crazy. I have to watch myself. I can't be a kid," he said, resigned to his new celebrity status. "I was even telling my coach, 'I just took a picture.' He said, 'You can't just take a picture and put it up.'"
Watching Nkemdiche compete, it's easy to understand why everyone gets so carried away with him. The 271-pound defensive end has skills that make coaches and recruiters salivate. He is big, strong and athletic to the point of being too good for a single definition.
Yes, he is a top-tier pass-rusher, but he is also a running back who, if not for his height, might be listed as the top tailback on many scouting lists.
Not many defensive ends travel to compete in 7-on-7 tournaments. Nkemdiche was at one this week, lining up at running back and catching passes in the flat. One would never know he plays defense by the way he smoothly cuts in and out of his breaks.
Nkemdiche said he came to work on his speed -- a scary thought considering he is far and away the largest player competing in the 30-team tournament.
In a group of more than 600 players, Nkemdiche stands out. So does his commitment to Clemson. It's the flip side to committing early. Now you're the lead dog; now you're the hunted.
"More people are doing it under the radar," Conn said of Nkemdiche's recruitment. "It's not as obvious. People are calling me and going through the other coaches."
Nkemdiche conceded that recruiting has turned more negative against Clemson, adding, "I can't do anything about it. I just have to get through it."
Getting through it means roughly six more months of phone calls, text messages and red-carpet treatments. Nkemdiche insists there will be no more official visits, but that could change. Just a few weeks ago, Reuben Foster, the No. 2 recruit in the ESPN 150, flipped from Alabama to Auburn. He won't be the last to be swayed by late pushes from other schools.
"They still want him," Conn said of Nkemdiche. "In today's time, you never know about a commitment."
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