Editor’s note: Clemson coach Dabo Swinney is regarded as one of the top recruiters in the nation. This story is meant to encourage younger athletes with college dreams and give insight to high school athletes involved in the recruiting process.
By BRIAN WHITMORE
So you want to play football for Clemson University? You’d better work hard, because only the best make coach Dabo Swinney’s cut.
Swinney, considered one of the top recruiters in the country, is looking for a special type of person to be a part of his team.
First, academics are key.
"Obviously, you’ve got to have guys that are going to qualify," said Swinney. "Academics are critical. You can’t just get guys that can get in, you’ve got to get guys that are going to get in and be able to stay in."
After that you’ve got to be a team player.
"Not a lot of great things get accomplished without a team," Swinney said.
Some things about a player you can measure. How fast you run and how high you can jump are important for skill players. Size and strength are important for others.
"I tell the coaches all the time, before you start telling me how fast they are, how high they can jump, how big they are — is he a football player?" said Swinney. "What does he do between the lines? It’s one thing to do something on a track, it’s another what you do between the lines. Sometimes we lose sight of that. There’s so many immeasurables out there. It’s like the NFL combine, there’s a lot of measuring, but you see guys all the time that weren’t at the combine, but turn out to be the best players. It’s about what you do between the lines."
Still think you’ve got what it takes? Swinney has some tips for how to improve your game and get noticed.
"First of all, become a student of the game," he said. "Really learn the fundamentals and techniques of a position. Go to camps — as many as you can — so coaches can see you and you can learn more fundamentals and techniques — different ways to do certain things, so you can get better and better. The more knowledge you can acquire, the better you are going to become as a player, regardless of your ability."
You can’t be scared of work if you want to make it to the next level.
"There’s just no substitute for a great work ethic," said Swinney. "It’s one thing to want to be a good player, but you’ve got to deserve to be a good player. That comes from having a tremendous work ethic.
"Most high schools have summer workout programs. It’s about strength and speed. You can’t just sit on the couch, show up in August and go play football. You’ve got to work. You’ve got to get in the weight room; you’ve got to go compete. If your team has 7-on-7 (passing leagues) in the summer, you’ve got to do it."
And lay off the Twinkies.
"You’ve got to take care of your body," said Swinney. "So many of these guys, they don’t understand how to eat the right way. You can’t have a Maserati or Mercedes-Benz and go put diesel fuel in it. You’ve got to put the right kind of fuel in your body to get the right results."
Swinney said the great thing about football is that there is a place for everybody. Drive and character are factors.
"Football players come in all shapes and sizes, and there are certain intangibles that you can’t measure — what’s inside a young man’s head? What’s inside his heart? Toughness? — those are things that are hard to measure. There is a place for everybody. If you want to play, I would say, ’get committed.’ Make up your mind you want to be the very best you can be and then do the things that it takes – dieting, weightlifting, speed and strength training, studying the game."
Swinney said the right attitude goes a long way. Can you take criticism? Are you coachable?
"There is so much negative, bad attitude in the world," he said. "Get a can-do attitude, an attitude of expectancy, an ‘I can do it’ attitude, an attitude of no excuses."
Follow your dream and never give up.
"You’re going to have ups and downs, circumstances in life that are difficult to deal with," said Swinney. "A good attitude isn’t going to make them go away, but can turn a lot of those difficulties into opportunities. It’s really about how you look at things. You can use some bumps in the road to climb, instead of fall."
One last tip: stay out of trouble. "Surround yourself with good friends and have some type of spiritual foundation," Swinney said.
If you’ve got the goods, a recruiter will come calling. Swinney attributes honesty and integrity to his success at recruiting. He said recruiting is about building relationships.
"You treat people the right way," he said. "I don’t see myself as any better than anybody else. I don’t expect more of others than I expect from myself. I think that hopefully comes across in the recruiting process. I am who I am, and I don’t try to be something that I’m not. I think that is important. I think it is important to be yourself. If you’re consistent, in the long haul you’ll be successful in recruiting or whatever you’re doing."
Having a good product to sell has helped Swinney.
"Clemson is a wonderful place," he said. "We have tremendous academic standards, great athletics, facilities and tradition. People are happy here. It’s a great place to be, a beautiful campus and area. It’s not a tough sell. The tough thing is getting them here, once we get them here, we have a chance."
Ultimately, your spot on the Clemson roster is up to you.
"You’ve got to have some purpose in what you do," said Swinney. "Set goals. Believe in yourself. Success is available to everybody, but it’s a choice."