Dabo Swinney made the phone call to Hilton Head Island Thursday night. The Clemson coach, who had led his team to an 11-2 record and a No. 11 national ranking this season, was offering a scholarship to Hilton Head Island High quarterback Michael Julian.
The Tigers were another in a long list of FBS schools that began their push for the signal-caller this month, as Clemson joined the likes of Wisconsin, N.C. State and Boston College late on the offer sheet. But much like he did with all the others, Julian politely declined on Swinney’s enticing offer.
“It was the way that the bigger schools came in,” Julian said. “I almost felt like a back-up plan or something like that. ... They’ve known about me for years. They didn’t step in then.”
Those schools didn’t recruit the 6-foot-5, 185-pound quarterback with the same tenacity that Toledo did, which earned the signal-caller’s commitment Friday morning.
“Toledo has been with me since the beginning, and they haven’t changed,” he said. “I know what they have and what they’re losing. I know I have the opportunity to play there. I know what the offense is like; it’s exactly what we run here. They’ve been winning, they’re going to continue to win.”
The Rockets were the second school to offer the Seahawks standout, joining Arizona and coach Rich Rodriguez early in the process last spring. They stuck with him, too, visiting every single week for Julian’s basketball games all while mainting frequent contact, even after the ACC and Big Ten programs came into focus.
“I think it’s a great fit for him,” coach B.J. Payne said. “He obviously really liked their staff. They did an absolute hell of a job recruiting the kid.”
Julian seemed to know all along that he would eventually be a Rocket. But after the bigger schools stepped in, he stepped back to further assess his options.
“Wisconsin was huge for me,” he said. “That just opened my eyes. I was like, ‘All right, it’s an opportunity, I’m going to go ahead and check it out and see what it’s like.’ ”
The senior liked what he saw, but the relationships just weren’t the same. He didn’t have the same connection that he did with Toledo quarterbacks coach Scott Isphording — his primary recruiter – or head coach Matt Campbell, who made his in-home visit earlier this week.
It was a relationship that had been budding since last year, when he first camped at Toledo. Even when he camped at Ohio State, the Rockets were there to check in on him, too.
“He was able to build that relationship with them as well as start learning about the university back in May,” Payne said. “I think that was a huge factor for him. He always looked for what would be the right fit for him as a football player. I was very proud of the fact that he did his research and he found the right fit for him. It wasn’t based on the school and how big it was.”
The Rockets’ offense is what caught Julian’s eye. Toledo set a school record with 42.2 points per game two seasons ago before averaging 31.5 points per contest this year. The school’s 5,788 yards of total offense this season — good for 32nd in the country — was the school’s third-best mark. The 2011 team ran up a school record 6,257 yards, good for 481.3 per game.
“Scheme-wise, it’s a perfect fit,” Payne said. “Basically they run something identical to what we run. it’s a great fit for him as a passer and as a runner.”
Julian, who finished his final season at Hilton Head High with nearly 3,000 total yards and 31 touchdowns, will likely redshirt his first year on campus while starting quarterback Terrance Owens completes his eligibility.
“It’s an incredible fit,” Payne said. “ ... Michael will go there, redshirt for a year and then have an opportunity to take over for four years.”
He won’t be able to officially do so until signing his letter of intent on National Signing Day, which is slated for Feb. 6. He plans on faxing over his letter that morning, officially ending his recruitment in the process.
He maintains that he is 100 percent committed to the Rockets despite other programs potentially continuing their push. He has all ready cancelled his official visit to Wisconsin, which was slated for this weekend.
“I’m sticking with Toledo,” he said.