Commentary

Auburn, Clemson enjoy hot June

'Family atmosphere' boosts both programs early on the 2012 recruiting trail

Updated: June 30, 2011, 12:17 PM ET
By Jamie Newberg | ESPN Recruiting

They are two small towns in two southern states. Each has a university, and their fan bases love their Tigers. It's Auburn of the SEC and Clemson of the ACC. They have a lot more in common than their passion for the game of college football.

One thing they have in common this month is both are hot as can be on the recruiting trail. And when you speak to a football prospect who has committed to Auburn or Clemson, he's likely to reveal another trait the schools share: The family atmosphere among the coaches and players is the main reason why they committed.

[+] EnlargeTravis Blanks
Courtesy of Tom HauckTravis Blanks, the nation's No. 2 safety prospect, fell in love with the family atmosphere at Clemson and committed.
"I committed to Clemson because of the relationships with the coaches and people of Clemson," said Travis Blanks (Tallahassee, Fla./North Florida Christian), the nation's No. 2 safety prospect and an ESPNU 150 member. "Everyone everywhere is terrific. All the people around the program and the surrounding area are great. Clemson is just a very welcoming place. It's those guys [the Tigers' coaches] and it resonates down to everyone from the players to the secretaries to all their support staff. That's the main reason why I chose Clemson was the relationships with all the people there. I fell in love with their family atmosphere."

Creating that type of environment is something most college staffs strive for. It can't be contrived. It can't be faked. It has to be real. And for whatever rhyme or reason, it seems to really reverberate within both these programs.

"I think every school talks about having a family atmosphere," said Jeff Scott, Clemson's wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator. "But a recruit will get a chance to see it for himself and get a real sense if that is true or not. They can tell whether you have a family atmosphere or a business atmosphere."

It starts at the top. Both Auburn head coach Gene Chizik and Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney are the facilitators. They set the tone, mood and football environment.

"There is a genuine family atmosphere here at Auburn," said Curtis Luper, Auburn's running backs coach and recruiting coordinator. "It starts with the staff and of course Coach Chizik and works all the way down. Recruits that come here and visit us see us as coaches but they also see us as husbands and fathers. There are 30 school-aged kids from coaches on this staff and the recruits see that and they know. It's very evident when people see it. The kids really enjoy it and they already feel like they are here. And we treat our players as we would our own children.

"Auburn is a fantastic place -- the city, the university and all the people. The entire area is a great atmosphere. The funny thing is that Auburn graduates call themselves the Auburn family."

ESPNU 150 quarterback Chad Kelly (Buffalo, N.Y./St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute) committed to Clemson a few weeks ago. He got the sense of family from the get-go. That immediately put Kelly at ease and made him relax, able to soak in everything the Tigers had to offer on his visit.

"It seems as though everyone that commits there you read about the family atmosphere of Clemson as being the big reason," said Kelly, the nation's No. 5-rated quarterback and the nephew of Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly. "But it's so true. You walk inside there and everyone says hello and they all know everything about you. It makes you feel comfortable from the very beginning and you can just be yourself. You take the tour and again, everyone knows who you are. All the coaches know you before you are there. Everyone affiliated with the program knows you before you are there. It's just a lot different than some other places. The thing is it's so genuine."

Scott and the Tigers coaches know that Clemson won't appeal to all recruits. Still, there are plenty of college-bound football players looking for what the Tigers have to offer.

"We appeal to a certain type of recruit and we know that Clemson is not for everyone," Scott said. "The coaches are more than just about football. They have a genuine interest to see these players grow in life. It's an environment that Coach Swinney and the staff created. It's genuine and consistent. I honestly think it's not something you can fabricate.

"To be honest nothing is orchestrated or planned out. That would show through. What recruits and their families see is how we interact. We are all very close, live in the same neighborhood and our wives hang out together and spend a lot of time together. That's the overall philosophy of Coach Swinney and it's something he's created and cultivated. It's amazing. People talk about it. The players talk about it and relay it to the prospects. It's a 365-day thing."

ESPNU athlete Ricky Parks (Hoganville, Ga./Callaway) was torn among three schools -- Georgia, Alabama and Auburn. Before his decision, Parks publicly stated he felt very comfortable at all three schools. But in the end, he just felt a little more at home on the plains of Auburn.

"Auburn is truly a big family with such a good coaching staff," said Parks, the nation's No. 12 athlete and an ESPNU 150 member. "Everyone's always around. They are so friendly. They pray for each other. It's just a wonderful experience. It's crazy there. Every time I went I felt more comfortable. I went over three weekends and that sold me. I went to Big Cat Weekend and it felt to me like I was with my high school team and coaches. It was just more of a family atmosphere than Georgia and Alabama. Even the coaches' family members are great. The Big Cat Weekend sold it for me. I knew."

What's interesting is both these programs have two different approaches with the same philosophy in terms of getting kids on campus in the early part of summer. For Auburn it's called Big Cat Weekend, a weekend filled with no football. It's just recruits and their families visiting Auburn to hang out with the coaches, their families and players. Meanwhile, Clemson has a three-day summer camp in early June. It's the only camp where they get their main recruiting targets on campus and in front of the coaching staff.

The focus for Auburn and Clemson is the same; they create a no-pressure environment where the kids and coaches can get to know each other better. The results are outstanding. Clemson has 12 commitments to date, and all 12 of them camped with the Tigers. Last year their ratio was 29 commitments, with 21 camping with Clemson the previous summer.

"That's what works for us," Scott said. "We would rather have kids on campus for three days in June and be with us in a real, low-key, stress-free environment. We get to know them and they get to know us. For most of them, it's their third or fourth time on campus. They can also get the real feel for Clemson and everything we have to offer."

One player who was sold was Zac Brooks (Jonesboro, Ark./Jonesboro). In fact, Clemson came out of nowhere to land him last week, and one of the teams it beat out was Auburn.

"I had a great visit," said Brooks, the 35th-ranked wide receiver. "When I went there I knew it was special. I was talking with the coaches and meeting everyone and realized right away it was the perfect fit for me. I never thought of Clemson as a school I would commit to, but then I started feeling them more and more. When I got there it was so much more than what I expected.

"The exact word to describe Clemson is genuine. I just always wanted to go to a school where I felt my home was with me. It didn't matter where or what conference. In the end I had a top four of Arkansas, Auburn, Florida and Florida State. Clemson wasn't even in it. I almost went to Auburn. You get the same feeling there. The only reason why I didn't is there's a better playing opportunity with Clemson."

In the end, this is what works for both the Tigers of Auburn and Clemson. Different teams have different ways to sell their football program. For both Auburn and Clemson, it's the family atmosphere.

"Every coach on staff has a family and kids," said quarterback Zeke Pike (Fort Mitchell, Ky./Dixie Heights), an Auburn commitment. "They understand what it's like to have kids of their own. That makes a special bond with the players and the coaches. I felt that the very first time I stepped foot on their campus. It felt so comfortable there. It's not just the coaches, it's the people of Auburn and the environment of the town. Even if football wasn't in the equation, Auburn is a place where I would want to go to school for four or five years."

Rebels head north for OT

It's not often you find Ole Miss recruiting the Midwest. In fact, if you look over the past decade, the Rebels have landed only one recruit from that region, and it was in this past recruiting class, with junior college transfer quarterback Zack Stoudt (Council Bluffs, Ia./Iowa Western).

That changed on Friday, when Ole Miss landed a commitment from three-star offensive lineman Jake Meador (Whiteland, Ind./Whiteland).

"I just love the Ole Miss coaching staff," Meador said. "Their OL coach [Mike Markuson] reminds me of my OL coach. I think that means a good transition for me. I also really like Coach [Houston] Nutt. He has a great track record in the SEC. I know he hasn't won an SEC championship but he has won a lot of games and has a great record."

Meador wasn't even on the Rebels' radar, and vice versa, earlier this spring. Then his father asked him where he would like him to send some film. Ole Miss was one of the schools Meador wanted his father to send tape. That was back in April.

"They called my coach right after they got the film," Meador said. "Then we decided to come down there and visit. That first time I went with my mom and we really enjoyed it. Then I came back with my entire family and brothers. We all loved it. Oxford is a small town and I think it's a place where I fit in real easy."

Meador, Meador 6-foot-7 and 305 pounds, will play offensive tackle for Ole Miss. He committed to the Rebels over Indiana, Kentucky, Louisville, Illinois and SMU.

"It just goes to show you have to check out everyone," Meador said. "I had no idea it would ever turn out this way."

Ole Miss now has seven commitments for its 2012 class.

Red-hot Blue Devils

A lot of college football programs had hot Junes in terms of commitments, but how about the Duke Blue Devils? Head coach David Cutcliffe and his staff have reeled in six over the past week alone. That includes three-star prospect Daniel Beilinson (Cary, N.C./Panther Creek), the nation's No. 22-ranked tight end.

"Duke's getting a very hard worker," said Wayne Bragg, Panther Creek's head coach. "At 6-5 and 230 pounds, he's a terrific blocker with his hand on the ground in the running game. And in my opinion, he's one of the state's best receiving tight ends. He can really catch the football. Coaches that came through here this spring all commented that every time they see him he continues to get better and better."

A big reason why Beilinson chose Duke over Wake Forest, NC State and Miami was the Blue Devils' academics.

"Daniel carries a 4.7 grade-point average," Bragg said. "He takes AP courses and honors classes. Academics were huge with him and so was proximity to the school."

Beilinson's mom is from Russia and his father is from Estonia. He will travel with his parents to Russia for three weeks in July.

"They have a lot of family there and that could be the last time he has the time to go back and see them," Bragg said. "I am sure once he gets to Duke, between football and school, he won't have the time."

Duke now has a dozen commitments.

Friday a big day in Tennessee

Three of the top-rated prospects from the Volunteer State will all make their college decisions known Friday. Three-star athlete Brian Kimbrow (Memphis/East), three-star defensive end Caleb Azubike (Nashville/McGavock) and wide receiver Cory Batey (Nashville/The Ensworth School) will all announce at 2 p.m. ET from D1 Sports Facility in Franklin, just outside of Nashville.

Kimbrow will choose from among Vanderbilt, Auburn, Mississippi State and Notre Dame. Azubike is down to Vanderbilt, Boston College and Mississippi State, and Batey will pick either Vanderbilt, Kentucky or South Carolina.