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June 14, 2012

No. 1 Nkemdiche picks Clemson

MORE: Class of 2013 Rivals100 | Position rankings

Many who follow recruiting were shocked when prized defensive end Robert Nkemdiche of Loganville (Ga.) Grayson, the country's No. 1 overall prospect, committed to Clemson on Thursday.

Although Nkemdiche consistently listed the Tigers among his favorites, few ever seemed to give the Tigers much of a shot.

Alabama, long considered the leader, not only had tradition and a history of producing NFL talent on its side, but a Crimson Tide alum - Mickey Conn - coaching his team. Ole Miss, where Nkemdiche's brother, Denzel, is a defensive back, also seemed like a possible destination. So did LSU, a school that Nkemdiche raved about at length after visiting earlier this year.

Recently, there also was chatter about Georgia, which hired Daryl Jones, a Grayson assistant during Nkemdiche's freshman year, as its Director of On-Campus Recruiting, and Mississippi State, which signed former Grayson quarterback Nick Schuessler, whom Nkemdiche has lived with, in February.

Meantime, Clemson got very little buzz.

That changed Wednesday night when defensive back David Kamara of Grayson, one of Nkemdiche's closest friends, announced via Twitter he had verbally committed to the Tigers. Kamara has said for months he and Nkemdiche intended to play together in college.

Turns out, he was right.

For Clemson, this pickup is, quite frankly, huge. Remember, this is the program that lost in embarrassing fashion on Jan. 4 in the Orange Bowl to West Virginia 70-33. That prompted the Tigers to part ways with defensive coordinator Kevin Steele and bring in Brent Venables from Oklahoma to replace him.

On May 18, Venables and fellow Clemson assistant Tony Elliott were in Georgia to watch Grayson's spring game.

So were two coaches each from Alabama and Ole Miss, and one from LSU. Nkemdiche originally was supposed to commit that night, but changed his mind a couple weeks earlier. After the scrimmage, he told Rivals.co he hoped to make a pledge sometime this summer.

On Tuesday, Nkemdiche Tweeted: "Going to visit Clemson tomorrow my boy Wayne already up there ."

Wayne is Wayne Gallman, a three-star Grayson running back who committed to Clemson in April.

After arriving at Clemson on Wednesday, Nkemdiche Tweeted, "Coolin with my boy Sammy Watkins talking football."

A day later, he pulled the trigger.

[ MORE CLEMSON: Check out TigerIllustrated .com]

Although Clemson has landed several big-name recruits -- many in the past decade -- this is the program's biggest pledge in recent memory and perhaps ever.

In 2011, the Tigers scored four five-star recruits, including Watkins, a dynamic receiver who was a star as a true freshman last season. None of the four however, were in the top 10 of the prospect rankings.

Nkemdiche is a consensus No. 1. Some have called him the best prep player in Georgia since Herschel Walker, class of 1980.

How did Clemson do it? How did the Tigers pull it off when few gave them a fighting chance?

Well, for starters, the Kamara connection clearly was significant. It also couldn't have hurt that Gallman already was on board at Clemson. And, of course, there is this: Conn and Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney once were teammates -- and roommates -- at Alabama.

HISTORY OF NO. 1
Here's a look back at every No. 1 prospect and where they signed since the current Rivals.com rankings began in 2002. Click here for a more complete look at their recruitment and how they fared in college.
ClassPlayerSchool
2012Dorial Green-BeckhamMissouri
2011Jadeveon Clowney, DESouth Carolina
2010Ronald Powell, DEFlorida
2009Bryce Brown, RBTennessee
2008Terrelle Pryor, QBOhio State
2007Jimmy Clausen, QBNotre Dame
2006Percy Harvin, WRFlorida
2005Derrick Williams, ATHPenn State
2004Adrian Peterson, RBOklahoma
2003Ernie Sims, LBFlorida State
2002Vince Young, QBTexas


Fans of other programs that were in the hunt, particularly Alabama and LSU, likely will be miffed that Clemson has apparently won this battle (it won't be over until National Signing Day next February).

Some no doubt will point to the blowout bowl game, the fact the Tigers have not finished in the top 10 since 1990 and haven't won a national title in 31 years.

But with the teenagers, there is this reality: While they certainly do care about wins and losses, they don't to the extent fans do. In fact, it's not even close.

Most high school prospects, especially the elite ones, have the primary objective of reaching the NFL. Because of that, the choice of a school often is only partly affected by how many championships he can win.

Nkemdiche has said repeatedly he would pick a college that could 1. Get him to the NFL and 2. Get him on the field early.

In Clemson, he believes he has found a fit.



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