Clemson assistant Todd Bates is Rivals' Recruiter of the Year
The machine that is Clemson football kept rolling on and off the field this year. Dabo Swinney led his team back to the national championship game for the fourth time in five years and on the recruiting trail the Tigers finished with the No. 2 recruiting class in the Rivals.com team rankings.
There is a lot of credit that can be spread around, but few coaches at Clemson - and around the country - can claim to have had as much success recruiting top talent in this 2020 recruiting cycle as Tigers defensive line coach Todd Bates.
“It was amazing to watch it unfold and to be a part of putting it together,” Bates said of this recruiting class. “You won't meet a better group of young men. They're good people first and then they just so happen to be great football players. They actually started to recruit each other and get to know each other, so they came in here with a great bond already.”
There is no bigger signee in this recruiting class than No. 1 overall prospect Bryan Bresee. Clemson got his verbal commitment back in April, but his relationship with the Tigers' staff got off to a rocky start.
“He (Bresee) came here to one of our junior days and he was a sophomore and we don't really have a lot of sophomores at our junior days,” Bates said. “We try to keep it as intimate as we can with that junior class, so that it feels a little bit special, but you get a Bryan Bresee who wants to come and that's the only time he could come.
"He didn't experience the love that he was searching for on that first visit. We're very fortunate and we spent a little time with him and did just enough to make him want to come back. That next time that he came he was either coming to cross us off or move us up and I'm glad it went the latter way.”
The work that Bates put in building his relationship with Bresee and his family obviously paid off. He could talk for hours about Bresee’s skill set, but there are other unique traits Bresee is bringing to Clemson that has Bates even more excited.
“Bryan is just a natural leader, very fun to be around, and what I noticed about him is he brings out the best in others around him,” Bates said. “That's a quality that not a lot of people have. It's great to get to know him through this whole process. He comes from a great family. His mom, Meghan, and dad, Richie, and all his siblings, it was just great getting to know their family.”
Combining Bresee with the three other defensive line signees, Bates reeled in what should prove to be a dominating force. Five-star Myles Murphy is a player Bates knew would be a great fit for Clemson on and off the field.
“You know your culture and you find out who fits it and Myles fit it like a glove,” Bates said. “His family, every time they came back, you could just see the same thing we saw with Bryan, which was them getting closer and closer. You start to build a rapport and a relationship with the family and before you know it he's here.
“You look at his size and he's still fast,” he said. “He runs about a 4.6 40 at that height and weight (6-foot-4, 255 pounds). He just moves like some of the smaller defensive ends across the country can move. He can flat out go get it and has a motor that never stops. He's well-coached, coming in from Georgia high school football, and everybody knows how players there are developed. They come in and they're ready to go. We've been pleased with him. He's coming in and busting his butt already.”
Rivals100 defensive tackle DeMonte Capehart knew he liked Clemson at an early age, but he needed guidance from Bates before playing for the Tigers was a realistic option.
“He was in our camp as a young kid, eighth grade going into the ninth grade,” Bates said. “He already had offers, but he didn't have the grades at the time, so he was one that I kind of challenged. I said, 'Man, you come in here, you get your grades right, and one day you'll have that Clemson offer.’ He came up here the next year at camp and he showed me both of his report cards. He had As and Bs. He didn't even make a C that year. He just needed to push to become the type of student that you have to be. We built a strong relationship from that. That changed his life. That's all it takes, sometimes for a kid, is the challenge of an opportunity. You give them a little light at the end of the tunnel and that's all he needed.”
Things happened quickly when Bates turned his attention toward Rivals250 defensive tackle Tre’ Williams. His magnetic personality meshed really well with the types of players Clemson tries to bring in.
“Tre’ is the easiest kid to talk to,” Bates said. “Being a people person, he's a natural recruiter as well. Our first conversation, we talked on the phone for about an hour and really got to know each other. Each time, we never had to reach for conversation. It just always came easy. It was just one of those times that those relationships that you build end up being a key component to this class because Tre' Williams is so outgoing and knows all these guys.
“A lot of people don't understand how tough he is,” Bates said. “He played this year mostly hurt and came back for the championship game and basically played with a torn labrum. He gutted it out because his teammates need him. That's just one thing you get in Tre’ Williams. You're getting a great person, a great Clemson fit, but you're also getting a very tough kid and a very talented kid.”
Defensive linemen weren’t the only players Bates helped Clemson sign. He leaned on previous relationships and unique connections to get Rivals100 receiver EJ Williams and linebackers Sergio Allen and Kevin Swint to sign with the Tigers.
“When (former Clemson assistant coach) Jeff Scott and I were recruiting Justyn Ross, EJ is a guy that we put our eye on,” Bates said. “We built a relationship with him and, again, each time he came here it felt more and more like home to him. He comes from an awesome family. His mom is the best. Whenever she brought him up to Clemson and came to games, it just felt more and more like home to him.
“It was really neat getting to know a young Sergio Allen,” Bates said. “I’ve been talking to him since he was a freshman and was able to build a great relationship with him. He was the second guy committed in the class. The neat thing about him is - everybody knows I write the motivational poetry- he was sending me motivational poetry. He's a bit of a renaissance man.
“What a lot of people don't know about Kevin is, he's my little cousin,” Bates said. “I wouldn't say it was a done deal early on, because Kevin is really smart and knew not to make his decision as a fan or let anybody else make his decision for him. He knew that he has somebody here that will look out for him no matter what. Coach (Brent) Venables (Clemson's defensive coordinator) did a great job with him and Sergio as well.”
The way Bates was able to reel in elite prospects at such a high rate is uncommon and it hasn’t gone unnoticed. Rivals.com National Recruiting Director Mike Farrell gave some insight into how Bates was able to be so successful.
“Bates is emerging as one of the best and most consistent recruiters in the country,” Farrell said. “The job he did with Bryan Bresee is exceptional and landing Demonte Capeheart before many thought he was ready was a shrewd move. His work in Alabama has also been exceptional, and I think EJ Williams is going to be a star. Bates is aggressive and relentless, but also does a great job of making kids and families feel comfortable.”
Making players and their families feel comfortable is a major hurdle for many coaches out on the recruiting trail, but Bates has a unique way of getting through to them.
“I tailor make some poetry for the players for what they're going through at the time,” Bates said. “Whatever time of year it is or whatever challenges they may be facing in their lives. That's just another way to connect using your God-given talent and gift to create unity, chemistry and bond.”
Clemson’s defensive line was one of their strengths when Bates was hired a few years ago and the unit hasn’t skipped a beat, but Tiger Illustrated’s Paul Strelow says Bates has also helped expand Clemson’s recruiting footprint into previously unreachable territories.
“When Swinney hired Bates three years ago, there were big shoes to fill replacing Dan Brooks – one of the best developers and eyes for talent at his position in a long time,” Strelow said. “So there were questions about replacing Brooks with a relative unknown from Jacksonville State. But this class magnifies what Swinney observed in Bates upon seeing him work Clemson’s summer camps.
“Bates’ poems, acronyms and writing draw the attention,” Strelow said. “But recruiting remains about relationships, and it’s the connections formed through his communication manner that has reaped such fruit.
“Bresee was obviously the prized catch this class, and Bates did an impressive job navigating Clemson past an initial lukewarm first impression of the program in order to get a second look,” Strelow said. “He also sunk his teeth into Capehart before just about anyone else viewed him as a potentially high-end prospect.
“There’s also the fact that Bates substantially helped Clemson break down the door into the previously impenetrable state of Alabama, starting with former five-star receiver Justyn Ross,” Strelow said. “Bates’ role in helping counsel four-star receiver E.J. Williams through personal challenges made a huge difference in that recruitment as well.”
The Tigers are on an incredible run right now, and there isn’t an end in sight as long as they continue to recruit like they have. According to Bates, that’s not changing anytime soon.
“It starts at the top with Coach Swinney,” Bates said. “It starts with hiring the person and then hiring the coach second. With recruiting, it starts with recruiting the person and then the player second. There have been many times that the kid may have five-star talent but they just may not fit our program or fit in our culture here and that's OK because not everybody will. We stick to that and that means something. That's our secret sauce here at Clemson, our culture.”