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Palmetto State championship roots: Several S.C. cities could become hometown of a national champion

January 5, 2017 GMT

CLEMSON – Several players with ties to the state of South Carolina have had a crack at a college football national championship, but with an in-state school playing for the title, there’s a chance for the national champion to be a team with numerous Palmetto State roots.

Clemson’s roster features 32 players from the state of South Carolina, four more than were on the 1981 championship team.

The state of South Carolina hasn’t traditionally been held in highest of regard in terms of churning out highly-ranked recruits. However, part of what has helped the Tigers getting success out of overlooked in-state — and out of state — players is the process of building players into the stars they are now once they arrive in Clemson.

Sure, Ben Bowlware (Anderson), Mike Williams (Vance) and Cordrea Tankersley (Beech Island) were highly-touted recruits who lived up to their potential. Digging deeper into the Tigers’ roster leads to a slew of guys who didn’t have that type of profile then but do have it now.

“This is still a developmental game. If guys don’t play great as a freshman or they redshirt, we just all forget about them because we’re worried about the next freshman that’s coming in and how great he’s going to be. We just kind of forget about those guys,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said.

“The truth of the matter is, if you bring in the right type of people in your program, and they’re committed to the work ethic and all those things, they’re going to eventually pan out if they’re talented and have the work ethic.”

The devil is in the detail of the evaluation for Clemson’s staff. Swinney said its disciplined approach when assessing the talent has allowed the staff to not only spot the real can’t-miss talent but the talent the scouting sites and recruiting services may have missed.

Swinney also scoffed at the assertion that the Tigers sign players for the simple purpose of landing higher-ranked targets. A prime example of that was Adam Humphries. The 5-foot-11 receiver, who now plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was ranked No. 1,349 in the nation by 247Sports coming out of Dorman High School in 2011. It was suggested on several internet sites that Clemson gave him a scholarship offer to get a commitment from Charone Peake, a 4-star recruit and Humphries’ high school teammate. He was the No. 5 ranked receiver in the nation and the No. 2 ranked recruit in the state of South Carolina.

“What a joke,” Swinney said. “The guy’s (Humphries) starting in the NFL.

“It’s because we’ve stayed committed to what we know, not what other people think they know. We don’t worry about pleasing somebody with being a recruiting ranking.”

The Tigers haven’t done too bad for themselves when it comes to those rankings though. The Tigers have had a top-20 recruiting class in each of the past seven season. With less than a month left until signing day the Tigers currently have the 12th ranked recruiting class, according to 247Sports.

“Sometimes we evaluate the 5-star guy, and we go ‘nope,’ and we’re disciplined enough to move on,” Swinney said. “Maybe it’s the character; maybe it’s the personality. Maybe, it’s just we don’t think he’s as good as everybody else.”

The dividends paid by the philosophy seem to have outweighed the misses so far for Clemson.

The Tigers have also made the most out of several players who were ranked lower coming out of high school. Socastee High School graduate Hunter Renfrow is a perfect example of that. He wasn’t ranked at all coming out of high school, and his offers mostly consisted of FCS schools. Instead of taking one of those offers, he agreed to be a preferred walk-on at Clemson. Two years later, Renfrow caught a pair of touchdown passes in the 2016 title game. He could be a big weapon again for the Tigers Monday night.

There could be many more players from the Palmetto State making plays for a while. Ten of the players from South Carolina are freshmen, and 12 more are sophomores. The success of the team as a whole plays a part in a number of players wanting to stay home. There’s also the aspect of players being longtime fans of the Tigers having grown up in the state. Senior defensive back Jadar Johnson was proud to point out another reason – the success of the current players from South Carolina on the roster.

“That’s crazy, man” Johnson said of the thought of having three players from Orangeburg County (Johnson, Mike Williams, Albert Huggins) playing for a national title. “I think it’s real big for the city just knowing there’s kids back there watching. Seeing us do things like this, living our dreams, they feel like they can live their dreams.”