Clemson 2023 football rookies thrive with new coaches

Freshman Clemson football assistant coaches Thomas Austin (left) and Nick Eason (right) are thriving as scouts.

Freshman Clemson football assistant coaches Thomas Austin (left) and Nick Eason (right) are thriving as scouts.

Special for the State

Nick Eason and Thomas Austin are quick to recognize that recruiting into Clemson football is never a one-on-one job.

Their employer offers sprawling facilities, a large support staff, a charismatic head coach and a decade-long tradition of winning on the sport’s biggest stages. These are all attributes, they say, that make Clemson an “easy sell” to high school prospects.

Meanwhile, the proof is in the pudding of the Class of 2023: When it comes to recruiting, freshman defensive tackles coach Eason and freshman offensive line coach Austin were invaluable additions. to the staff of Dabo Swinney.

And they run one of the best recruiting classes in the country.

“They’re great communicators, they’re great relationships, they have a great sense of humor and they both love what they do,” Swinney said. “So they suit us perfectly.”

Together, Eason and Austin are responsible for earning four of the top five commits and seven of the top 11 in Clemson’s 2023 recruiting class. This group of 17 players ranks No. 1 in the ACC and No. 5 nationally, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings.

Not too shabby for a coach replacing Todd Bates, the former Clemson defensive line coach and ace scout who is now in Oklahoma. Or another that follows in the footsteps of Robbie Caldwell, Clemson’s longtime offensive line coach who now works for the program in an off-court role.

But, as Swinney said, “this isn’t their first rodeo.”

Take Eason, 42, a former Clemson and NFL defensive lineman who joined the Tigers in January as defensive tackles coach and defensive play coordinator.

His college coaching experience was minimal, limited to the 2021 season at Auburn, but the rest of his resume (namely: 17 years combined as an NFL player and coach) spoke for itself. Skeptical viewers be damned.

A coach, Eason recalls, asked him early in his transition from the NFL to college football, “How are you going to be able to recruit?” When he heard that, he laughed.

Eason shot back, “Well, I’ve played in two Super Bowls. I played in the league for 11 years. And I’m from southern Georgia, a small town, so I know how to talk to people because everyone knows everyone where I’m from in Lyon. I was always able to have authentic conversations with people. It will be real easy.”

A bit ironic? Yes. Exact? Yes too.

By sharing his authentic self and occasionally releasing a musical instrument, Eason attracted plenty of talent during his brief tenure as Tiger. He can be, as one writer joked, “the first coach in college football history to sign a contract with a school and earn a raise before even coaching a game.” Some recruitment highlights:

  • Pull out a guitar and harmonize with a youth pastor on an official visit with 2022 four-star defensive lineman Caden Story. Story committed to Auburn but opted out and followed Eason to Clemson when he changed jobs.

  • Shooting three Georgia State 2023 four-star defensive line commitments in June. 42 rookie Vic Burley, 206 rookie Stephiylan Green and 291 rookie AJ ​​Hoffler all had Eason as their primary scout, according to 247Sports.

  • Leading the program push for five-star defensive lineman and rookie No. 28 Peter Woods. Woods signed the Tigers earlier this month after what essentially became a one-on-one battle between Clemson and Alabama.

On the other side of the trenches, Austin, 35, proved a worthy contender. A former Clemson offensive lineman and team captain who went on to play four years in the NFL, his tangible experience and measured shots resonated with many.

Four-star inside offensive lineman Harris Sewell of Texas is Austin’s most decorated commitment in 2023. He is the No. 2 player in his position and the No. 85 rookie in the class, and he has engaged June 29 at Far Clemson on programs in Texas and Texas A&M State, as well as Alabama and Oklahoma.

Austin had two four-star offensive tackles in rookie No. 170 Zechariah Owens of Georgia and rookie No. 238 Ian Reed of Texas.

Looking ahead, Clemson is also in good standing with 2024 State tackles and top 100 national rookies Kam Pringle and Josiah Thompson.

“When I was coming to Clemson, I had other schools that maybe gave me the opportunity to play earlier, but those schools were just trying to get to a bowling game,” Austin said. “Clemson was trying to win an ACC championship. Now we’re trying to win (national) championships every year. So you’re looking for guys who aren’t afraid of competition.

Clemson’s summer success, Austin said, was also an “affirmation” that the program’s brand is holding firm amid myriad changes in the college football landscape, from the transfer gate at NIL to the conference realignment. .

“Coach Swinney said it the other day: The more chaotic college football gets, the more attractive Clemson becomes to good guys,” Austin said.

Inevitably, “we’re not going to have everyone,” Eason said.

Clemson, like all programs, has recently missed 2023 rookies including defensive line targets Keldric Faulk (Florida State), Darron Reed (FSU) and TJ Searcy (Florida) and offensive line targets Sullivan Absher (Notre Dame) and Sam Pendleton (Notre Dame).

As for the 2023 hopefuls these first-year coaches have brought into the fold, though, recounting their journeys from “Clemson guys” to “Clemson men,” as Swinney put it? Recruiting is never a one-man job, but Eason and Austin certainly hold their own.

Clemson’s OL/DL 2023 commitments

National rankings via 247Sports Composite

5 stars Thompson (Alabama) DL Peter Woods (#28 nationally)

4 stars Warner Robbins (Ga.) DL Vic Burley (#44)

IOL 4 star Permian (Texas) Harris Sewell (#85)

4 stars Eagle’s Landing Christian (Ga.) OT Zachary Owens (#170)

4 stars Rome (Ga.) DL green stephiylan (#206)

OT 4 stars in Vandergrift (Texas) Ian Roseau (#238)

4 stars Woodward Academy (Ga.) DL AJ Hoffler (#291)

This story was originally published July 27, 2022 3:08 p.m.

Chapel Fowler has covered Clemson football, among other topics, for The State since June 2022. He is a native of Denver, North Carolina, a 2020 UNC-Chapel Hill alumnus, and an avid basketball player. with previous stops at the Fayetteville (NC) Observer and Chatham (NC) News + Recording. His work has been honored by the Associated Press Sports Editors, the North Carolina Press Association, and the Associated College Press.

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