FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — West Virginia and Clemson are among dozens of football programs from outside of Florida that have gone there to sign prospects to supplement their rosters over the past two decades. More people live in the greater Miami area (5.5 million population) than either South Carolina or West Virginia.
The last time Clemson played in the Orange Bowl, the Tigers beat Nebraska to capture the 1981 national championship. Getting back to the Orange Bowl is significant for recruiting purposes.
Since Dabo Swinney took over as coach, Clemson has signed just five Floridians. None of those were from Miami-Dade, Broward or Palm Beach counties, which comprise the south Florida region. Clemson hasn't signed a Miami-area prospect since Tarik Rollins in 2008. One of the last significant south Floridians on the Tigers' roster was receiver Jacoby Ford. Star receiver Sammy Watkins and suspended running back Mike Bellamy hail from the gulf side of Florida in the Fort Myers area.
"To set up camp for (a week) and have that paw just cover the town, have the paw hanging over bridges on buses, it's really neat. It has a tremendous impact on recruiting," Swinney said. "We've had a lot of success recruiting Florida and hopefully we'll be able to attract a few more from the south Florida area."
According to a Sports Illustrated study, 196 Division I recruits per year came from Florida from 2004 to 2009, and nearly half of those players hailed from south Florida. The state of South Carolina had 169 Division I recruits during the five-year period.
But for out-of-state ACC programs, Florida recruiting has declined during recent years as other in-state programs like South Florida and Central Florida have emerged. Also, Big East schools like West Virginia and Rutgers have become recruiting competition in the region.
Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said south Florida has become over-recruited. Steele is assigned to the region and has recruited the area since 1983.
"I can actually drive to every high school in Dade and Broward County pretty much without a GPS and I can find my hotel without a GPS, so I know what I'm doing," Steele said. "I've always just kind of thought that there's a lot of talent here, and you've got to find the guys that fit your program."
But at Clemson, Steele has been unable to recruit the area as thoroughly as when he was a linebackers coach at Florida State.
"What's really changed in recruiting now, particularly if you're a coordinator ... you can only have seven (coaches) on the road at a time, someone has got to stay home," Steele said. "Well, guess who gets to stay home? The coordinators. So it does affect your recruiting."
The nationally televised game is important to Clemson and West Virginia.
"There are hundreds of schools that recruit down here for a reason," West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. "Not only from a south Florida standpoint, but from a national standpoint, the magnitude of the game ... we all understand there are going to be a lot of eyes on it."