On the gridiron, South Point junior Zeek Rodney exudes confidence and swagger. But when it comes to the recruiting side of football, the stout defensive lineman gets a little bashful, and he was admittedly relieved when teammate Anthony Johnson was invited to join him last weekend on an unofficial visit to check out the Clemson football program.
I wasnt going down there by myself, said Rodney, laughing. I dont like doing stuff like that alone. So, I was glad he got invited.
The visits are coming more frequently for Rodney, a junior defensive tackle who dominated Region 3 lines of scrimmage last fall. The 6-foot-1, 260-pounder racked up 133 tackles, 27 sacks and 26 tackles-for-loss. Those plays erased over 300 yards of offense for opposing teams. Rodney also caused three fumbles, blocked two kicks and had an outstanding 40 quarterback pressures. It felt at times as if he was in the opposing backfield as much as the other teams running back.
That kind of production has ramped up recruiting interest. So far, Rodneys only scholarship offers are from Charlotte and South Carolina State, but that wont last long.
I take a stack of mail to him, said Herron on Wednesday. Hes getting letters all the way from UCLA to Florida State to LSU. Its real funny because its the gamut; he got one today from Holy Cross. But you name it in the Southeast, hes got it.
Clemson assistant coach Jeff Scott set up the visit last weekend with South Pointe head coach Strait Herron, who insisted on an invite for Johnson too. Rodney and his father, Johnson, and Herron and his wife made the trip down to Clemson.
Rodney has previously been to official Junior Days at South Carolina and North Carolina, but the visit Saturday to Clemson was a little different. As part of a group of about 30 juniors from all over the country, Rodney and four or five other defensive tackle prospects met with Clemson defensive line coach Dan Brooks during their tour of the West Endzone at Tiger Stadium.
As the group was shepherded into another room, Rodney was told to hang back for a moment. Around the corner came Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney for a quick word, even though the Tiger football team was practicing at the time. Rodney said that Swinney told him he liked the way I play the game, hard, and he liked my motor.
It was a personal touch that made an impact.
I think hes a great coach, a great person, said Rodney. Loves his players as well.
Overall, the visit was an enjoyable experience for the Stallion sack machine.
I was excited, Rodney said. Ive never been to Clemson before. Saw the new practice facility; it looked nice.
Though South Carolina has been very successful recruiting South Pointe in recent years, Rodney has liked a different school since he was a little kid: Florida State, he said, adding that North Carolina, South Carolina, LSU and Clemson are also schools of interest. Rodneys distant cousin, former Northwestern standout Roderick Byers, is a sophomore defensive lineman at Clemson.
All of those schools are in play for Rodney after his monster 2012 campaign. The High School Sports Report named Rodney the Statewide Defensive Player of the Year, an award he accepted at a banquet last month. Rodney admitted it was a nice shot of confidence to win the Defensive Player of the Year honor, especially as coaches across South Carolina had input in the decision.
I was surprised, he said. I wasnt expecting to get it. I just expected to make the all-state team.
Opposing coaches werent surprised, and they wont be this fall either. If Rodney was one of the first names on the scouting report in 2012, next season his name will be first line, in red, all caps, size 72 font.
I know that Im gonna be facing different strategies, probably gonna be getting more offensive linemen, said Rodney. Ive got to work harder in the weight room, be stronger, so I can do better in the upcoming season.
Johnson could be in for a big year too. The slender, 6-foot-4 receiver only caught 34 passes last year, but nine of them went for touchdowns, and he averaged over 23 yards per catch. Johnson saved his best for last, grabbing a combined 12 passes for 340 yards and two scores in the Class AAAA-DII quarterfinal win over York and semifinal loss to Greenwood.
Both Johnson and Rodney have work to do in the classroom, but getting out and seeing Division I campuses can only serve as motivation to that end.
I dont think its gonna be an issue, said Rodney about his grades. Its not that I dont know the work, its just doing the work. Coach is pushing me, and my parents and other coaches are letting me know Ive gotta get my grades.
Rodney is signed up to take the SAT and the ACT later this school year, a detail thats derailed many recruiting processes, and he said hes also avoiding negative posts on social media that can turn off recruiters.
At the end of the day, Rodneys jaunt down to Clemson was just an unofficial visit. But Herron, and undoubtedly many others, hope its an experience that crystallizes and hardens Rodneys desire to make it to the next level, something his talent deserves. It will give him something to ponder the next time hes bored with homework and staring out the window.