CLEMSON -- Two weeks ago, Jamie Harper dropped the bombshell in front of three Clemson assistants.
Harper, who unbeknownst to even his high school coach had been secretly committed to the Tigers for weeks, told the trio assembled at Trinity Christian Academy in Jacksonville, Fla., that he had grown unsure of those plans.
The previous Friday, running back James Davis had withdrawn from the NFL Draft, planting the thought three might be a crowd in Clemson's backfield next season.
Along had come Illinois, which offered immediate playing time with the departure of another early entrant, Rashard Mendenhall.
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"We went in there thinking it was going to be hugs and handshakes and everybody talking about how good we were going to be," said running backs coach Andre Powell, who had been accompanied by offensive coordinator Rob Spence and receivers coach Dabo Swinney. "Un-uh."
Recalled Trinity coach Verlon Dorminey, "They all looked like they had been punched in the gut. But they went back and started over."
To be sure, Clemson's recruiting effort finished Wednesday like it started -- with a bang.
The Tigers snatched three high-profile additions on Signing Day, bumping their recruiting class to the border of its highest ranking since services began evaluating them the last decade.
Harper and a pair of other four-star prospects -- offensive tackle Antoine McClain of Anniston, Ala., and tight end Dwayne Allen of Fayetteville, N.C. -- were the cherries on top of a group ranked No. 10 by Scout.com and No. 12 by Rivals.com.
Clemson's previous high is believed to be the 2001 class featuring Roscoe Crosby, which closed at No. 11 in Rivals' rankings.
While coach Tommy Bowden believes there is more depth across the board and more needs filled with this class, it proved comparable in terms of 11th-hour drama.
In particular, Allen had been considered a longshot after re-committing to Georgia three days ago during a press conference intended to declare his switch to Clemson.
When the Tigers assessed their recruiting board two weeks ago, they counted seven primary targets, and Bowden estimated they would sign about three.
That figure put Clemson in line with its estimated class size of 21-22 signees. But when assistant coaches kept reporting positive returns on nearly every one of the targets, recruiting coordinator Billy Napier had to convince Bowden these caliber of prospects were worth oversigning.
"I don't think we'd ever been in this position before," Napier said.
Clemson wound up netting six of the seven -- linebacker Jerrell Harris signed with Alabama -- pushing the class size to 26, one more than the NCAA allows to enroll on scholarship. So Myrtle Beach kicker Spencer Benton, who has already enrolled, will pay his own way this season and go on scholarship the next year.
The last one in was Harper (6-foot, 227 pounds), whom Clemson had rolled out the red carpet for on numerous occasions.
For that, Dorminey largely credited Swinney, who formulated the plan to "re-recruit" Harper once his reservations had been expressed.
Harper's father, James, wanted to him to attend Clemson, and Dorminey said Swinney's relationship with James probably played an important role.
Furthermore, with rising junior tailback C.J. Spiller expected to turn pro after next season, Harper could have a year to get acclimated to the college game before being thrust into a pivotal role, Dorminey said.
"What we tried to sell Jamie on is the fact C.J. is 195, James is 205 and 225 is 225, we don't have that," Bowden said. "Our needs for a bigger back surely didn't change. Then we just didn't have numbers at that position. With two potential backs going out, the timing is really good for backs coming in here."
Around 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, ESPNU went to live coverage of Harper's press conference.
Harper had three hats stacked on top of one another, symbolic of the three schools he was supposed to be considering -- Clemson, Illinois and Miami.
Clemson was the top hat, and as he rose, Harper began apologizing to Trinity teammate Daniel Andrews, a Tigers signee regardless.
He told Andrews he was sorry -- Andrews would have to be at Clemson alone for his senior year. Putting on the cap with the orange paw, Harper contended he would be turning pro after his junior year.
The other two hats, which he quickly flipped off stage, had Clemson emblems, too.
"Sometimes in this business you have to be able to hit a curveball," Swinney said.
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