Three-hundred sixty-five days from Wednesday, Derion Kendrick will step behind a table and sign a national letter of intent to play football at Clemson in front of flashing cameras and clicking cell phones.
There won’t be any suspense, no picking hats or revealing t-shirts or any other elaborate schemes to make his decision known. That’s because the recruiting process was starting to weigh down Kendrick and his mom, Shenekia McClinton.
“Coaches were hitting me up every day,” said Kendrick. “Now, it’s getting more calm.”
We’ve been dealing with a lot of phone calls, direct messages, text messages, emails, and our phone stays ringing all the time. For him to look at me and say, “Falls, I’m all in” while we’re at Clemson, he was just ready to get it off his plate.
Dexter Falls, South Pointe assistant football coach and mentor to Derion Kendrick
Communication was becoming so prevalent and consistent that Kendrick wasn’t able to respond to all the various forms of messages, many of which buzzed his phone during school hours or in the evening. On a recent Friday, Clemson’s Dabo Swinney and Virginia Tech’s Justin Fuente visited him at South Pointe, before South Carolina’s Will Muschamp stopped by the school to watch Kendrick’s basketball game later that night.
“We were getting more and more schools coming in,” said South Pointe coach Strait Herron. “I’m hoping this right here is gonna slow everything down.”
Kendrick’s decision was sealed during Clemson’s Junior Day last weekend. McClinton and Falls - who went to middle school together and have been friends for many years - joined Kendrick on the visit to Death Valley.
They took turns zooming down the slide that Clemson recently installed in its sparkling new football operations facility. Kendrick’s slide went pretty smoothly, but Falls’ turn may have gone too smoothly. He flew off the bottom and didn’t stick the landing.
“Ugh,” said Falls, grinning, “the slide was very fun. I watched D.K. jump on the slide and I thought that I could do it and I forgot that I was getting a little older than what I was. I came in pretty hot. I think he’s gonna put it on Twitter or something. I was sore for, like, three days.”
I can play both. But wherever they need me, I’ll play.
Derion Kendrick, on which position he’ll play at Clemson
The visit underlined all the things Kendrick already liked about the program, slides and putt-putt and other gimmicks aside. He told the Tiger coaches about his decision Saturday night, to the delight of his mom.
“I seen her eyes tear up a little bit and she just had a big smile on her face,” said Kendrick. “She’s led me to this point and now it’s time for me to pay her back.”
Sharing the muscle and grace of a stallion when he runs, Kendrick had his pick of offers from national college football powers. But he told Falls that he didn’t feel like he had to go to Alabama to play national championship-caliber football, a credit to the incredible recent rise of Swinney and his Tigers. Geography helped Clemson too.
“He loves his mom,” said Falls. “That’s his biggest fan and he wanted to stay close to mom.”
Sitting up in the stands on Friday nights in the fall, Kendrick can come across as cocky. But Herron thinks his decision to commit to Clemson and squash the recruiting circus says more about him than his fiery on-field actions.
“You would see this cockiness in him that really gets under some people’s skin, but really by him doing what he did it shows how humble he is,” he said. “He understands that he’s blessed with some talent but he’s got other things he’s focused on.”
Big junior season
Derion Kendrick improved rapidly during his first season at quarterback. He completed 63 percent of his passes for nearly 3,400 yards and 37 touchdowns and ran for eight more. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound junior was named Region 3-4A player of the year, WSOC-TV’s Big 22 player of the year, the Tri-County Coaches Association’s 4A, 5A offensive player of the year, and MaxPreps named him a junior All-American. He’ll likely play receiver at Clemson, but could also end up in the defensive secondary.