Clemson cemented its status as one of the biggest surprises of the 2011 recruiting season Wednesday by landing five-star linebackers Stephone Anthony and Tony Steward in a National Signing Day daily double.
The additions of Anthony and Stewart gave Clemson's class four of the nation's top 25 recruits. Running back Mike Bellamy of Punta Gorda, Fla., and wide receiver Sammy Watkins of Fort Myers, Fla. also signed with the Tigers on Friday after verbally committing to the Tigers earlier.
Stewart is ranked 13th, Watkins is 15th, Anthony 24th and Bellamy 25th. All are rated as five-star prospects.
"I think it's a great class," said Anthony, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound linebacker from Wadesboro, N.C. "All I can say is Clemson is coming."
Clemson traditionally delivers one of the top recruiting classes in the ACC, but the Tigers are enjoying even more success than usual this year. And it follows a year in which Clemson went 6-7 - its first losing season since 1998 - and dropped three of its last four games.
The signings of Anthony and Steward should prove particularly fruitful because Clemson beat out ACC rivals for both of them. Stewart chose Clemson over Florida State and Anthony picked the Tigers over Virginia Tech.
"It felt like the right place for me," Steward said at his press conference at St. Augustine (Fla.) Menendez High School.
Steward, the nation's No. 1 outside linebacker prospect, had grown up a Florida State fan while starring at Menendez.
As recently as last Thursday, the 6-foot-2, 225-pounder said that his decision was "as 50-50 as it gets" and that he turned to prayer.
"It was tough because I mean the whole time I really, really thought I was going to go to Florida State," he told Rivals.com reporters. "I prayed about it as much as I could. But it came down to Clemson … it was God. He led me to this decision and I am just going to live by his word."
Steward said that biggest challenge in his decision was his family.
"I guess being my age and being able to leave home is tough because I am still young and will be leaving behind a bunch of family and friends," he told reporters. "This is a different feel for me, a new experience. It'll be easier for me to grow into my own man."
His mother, however, was torn by the decision.
"It was tough. I almost felt like I shouldn't tell her," he said. "But, she is family and she supports me."
Steward was named to the RivalsHigh All-American First Team with his play on the field as he accumulated 82 tackles, five sacks, and four forced fumbles in eight games. He is the first player in the history of Pedro Menendez High to sign a Division I football scholarship.
Menendez coach Keith Cromwell was surprised by the decision.
"It was hard for Tony," Cromwell said. "He picked for whatever reason the school he felt was best. I know he has loved FSU his whole life but for whatever reason it wasn't meant to be."
The 427-mile trip to from St. Augustine was a factor in the decision but one that Steward said Clemson wasn't too far away to prevent him from signing there.
"Clemson separated itself," he told reporters. "It is close enough that I can come home whenever I want.
"I feel like I made the right decision and I will be supported wherever I go."
The additions of Steward and Anthony should immediately upgrade a linebacker corps that must replace Brandon Maye, who left the program after recording 211 tackles over the last three seasons. Steward is the No. 1 outside linebacker and Anthony is the No. 3 outside linebacker in the 2011 recruiting class.
Bellamy and Watkins provide some desperately needed skill-position players to an offense that didn't have anyone accumulate more than 637 receiving yards last season. Watkins is the nation's No. 3 wide receiver in this class, while Bellamy is the No. 5 running back.
"It's a great opportunity," Anthony said.
And this class should give Clemson a great opportunity to move back into ACC title contention.