Saturday, July 7, 2012
Updated: July 8, 9:02 PM ET
Asking too much?
By Mitch Sherman
BEAVERTON, Ore. -- Shockwaves from Loganville, Ga., more than 2,600 miles away, echoed Saturday around Nike's plush headquarters, host this weekend to The Opening and its collection of 152 of the top college football prospects.
Robert Nkemdiche, the No. 1-rated player in the Class of 2013, absent from this event and a member of the Clemson recruiting class since mid-June, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Friday that in order to make his pledge a "done deal," he'd like the Tigers to offer his good friend and Grayson High School teammate, safety Ryan Carter.
The elite defensive end offered no ultimatum to Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. He did not say he would decommit from the Tigers if they declined to recruit Carter.
Nkemdiche did say, though, that if Clemson decided its haul of three Grayson players was enough for this recruiting class, he'd look more closely at Ole Miss -- which has offered Carter and at which Nkemdiche's brother, Denzel, plays linebacker.
And so began the earthquake.
National media reacted immediately. Players at The Opening noticed, too.
Asked Saturday about Nkemdiche's comments, published just 18 hours earlier on the opposite end of the United States, many players here were aware of what he said and their responses varied.
"I don't have a problem with him saying it," said uncommitted cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, who's No. 4 in the ESPN 150. "If (Clemson) really wants him and he wants them to offer his friend, they've got to do what they think they need to do to get him."
Alabama pledge O.J. Howard, a tight end ranked No. 46 in the ESPN 150, said he did not agree with Nkemdiche's tactic to even suggest that Clemson offer a high school teammate.
"That's asking a lot," Howard said. "He's really good, a great player, but I don't think any SEC schools would stand for that. At Alabama, we just wouldn't take you."
It's not so much a matter of whether Nkemdiche's comments crossed the line. They likely did not. He simply spoke his mind. He's 17. In seven months, he'll sign a letter of intent and lose whatever leverage he owns.
Today, he wants to play college football with his friends from home, and that's fine.
In addition to Nkemdiche, Clemson has received commitments from Grayson running back Wayne Gallman and cornerback David Kamara. Grayson QB Nick Schuessler recently surrendered a scholarship offer from Mississippi State to walk on at Clemson.
Schuessler may ultimately land a scholarship with the Tigers. As may Carter, and all appear worthy. Carter's offers include Georgia State, Tulane, Arkansas State and Southern Miss in addition to Ole Miss, according to the AJC.
The problem here involves the perception it could create if Clemson takes five players from the high school of the nation's top player.
"It's a fine line. There's politics," said former Colorado and Boise State coach Dan Hawkins, who is working with the players this weekend in Oregon. "I think ultimately, you've got to do what's best for your football program. But in the end, some of that stuff comes back to bite you."
If Nkemdiche hadn't discovered this before this weekend, he understands now that every time he speaks or tweets, someone may magnify or misconstrue his words.
Nkemdiche took to Twitter on Friday night to say the AJC twisted his comments. Given a chance to clarify, he didn't change his story.
He was upset, apparently, at the reaction.
"In the long run, I just hope Nkemdiche stays faithful," said linebacker Dorian O'Daniel, one of the Tigers' two commits at The Opening. "Clemson's a good school. They don't deserve to be done wrong."
Receiver Ra'Shaad Samples, who pledged Saturday to Oklahoma State, said Nkemdiche is just protecting his "family."
"A lot of people don't understand the recruiting process," Samples said. "This is the one-time opportunity when people answer to you. Once you go to a school, there's no more answering to you. You're on somebody else's time. You're on somebody else's money. It's basically a business. I think the kids should be able to say what they want."
Stanford linebacker commit Peter Kalambayi saw it differently.
"I've told colleges about our players," he said, "but I'd never pressure them to offer. I feel like you earn that offer on your own."
Penn State quarterback pledge Christian Hackenberg felt the same way.
"I respect Nkemdiche as a player," he said, "but in my opinion it's important to show as much respect as you can to the school you're committed to."
Defensive end Da'Shawn Hand, one of three 2014 prospects invited to The Opening and possessor of a handshake as strong as Nkemdiche's monster grip, also felt strongly about the situation. Presented an opportunity to create positions for his prep teammates in a recruiting class next year, Hand said he'll pass.
"It's not my style," Hand said.
Maybe it's not Nkemdiche's style. But for a player of his stature, perception -- even 2,600 miles from home -- often trumps reality.