Clemson has landed yet another top-50 recruit in its 2020 class, this time with quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei. The No. 50 ranked prospect is the top pocket passer in the class and chose the Tigers over Oregon and Mt. San Antonio College.
Mt. SAC made his top list as an homage to his uncles who coached and played at the college; it was his way of acknowledging the school’s significance for his family.
The choice came down to Clemson or Oregon. Now that he is committed to the Tigers, he is the eighth recruit ranked in the top-50 to commit in what is turning out to be a potential top-ranked class.
“My faith is important to me, and the first time I went out there was in June (2018) and that’s what sold me, knowing they’re all big Christians,” Uiagalelei said. “I didn’t commit when I was out there, but that’s when I told myself that’s where I wanted to be.”
Uiagalelei is a 6-foot-5, 243-pound quarterback from St. John Bosco high school in Bellflower, California, and could have had his choice of college. Nearly every major program was after him, but Clemson was the school he felt fit him best and gave him the best chance at developing into the player and person he wants to be.
The fact that Trevor Lawrence is on the roster, and will be entering his third year on campus when Uiagalelei is a freshman, didn’t scare the talented California recruit. He welcomed the idea of sitting behind Lawrence and learning, rather than suggesting he wants to come in and play right away.
“Learning is not a bad thing for me,” Uiagalelei said. “I want to be out there and compete, but if that means I have to sit behind a leader, I’m fine with that.”
He has been in that situation before, so he has some experience in waiting his turn, developing and competing. When he and his family chose St. John Bosco over other schools, Uiagalelei had quarterback Re’Al Mitchell ahead of him on the roster.
Uiagalelei was only a freshman and Mitchell had won a state championship for Bosco, but Uiagaleli waited his turn and eventually beat out Mitchell for his job. Uiagalelei’s father, Dave, said that experience helped the family figure out which school would be best for his son and also prepared him for his future.
“Why did we go to Bosco, because we knew they had a coach there that got Josh Rosen ready and it was all about development,” Dave said. “People don’t know that D.J. didn’t play a whole lot of years in youth football — he only played in third, fifth and seventh grade — so coming into high school the main goal was to try to get D.J. developed. That’s the same goal we’re going to use when he goes to college, and we know Clemson can get D.J. ready for the next level.”
When Uiagalelei wasn’t playing football in his youth, he was playing baseball and has also become a top pitching prospect along the way. He has a 95 mph fastball and can hit, so he plans on playing both sports at Clemson.
St. John Bosco linebackers coach and recruiting assistant Terry Bullock is a close friend of the family and has helped Uiagalelei in his recruitment. Bullock says Uiagalelei looks NFL ready right now, and could have had a chance to enter the MLB draft this year, but decided to go to college instead.
After meeting with people associated with MLB and being counseled on where Uiagalelei could potentially fall in the baseball draft, the family thought it was best for him to wait and continue to develop in football.
Dabo Swinney and his staff are thankful for that decision as they are now jockeying for the top-ranked class in the country, currently sitting at No. 2 behind Alabama. With Uiagalelei in the class, Clemson now has 14 total commitments, 13 of which are ranked in the ESPN 300.
In landing some of these top prospects, including Uiagalelei, the coaches have now gained a few extra recruiters as well.
“Right now, the guys I’m going to try to recruit are receivers, like Julian Fleming and E.J. Williams,” Uiagalelei said. “My guy Johnny Wilson from California, there’s a bunch of guys I’m after. We’re going to have the best class, it’s already starting to shape up that way.”