For SMU Football, Adrian Klemm's L.A. Story is Paying Off (But Not Like That)
He's now the answer to two football trivia questions:
1. Who was the New England Patriots' top draft choice in 2000, selected four rounds and 156 picks before a quarterback named Tom Brady?
2. Who is the SMU recruiting coordinator suddenly somehow luring blue-chip inner-city players from the West Coast to tony University Park?
It's Adrian Klemm, the guy with the three Super Bowl rings, even more tattoos and the words and wisdom to convince nationally coveted prospects to play at SMU, and to confound recruiting rivals by making Dallas an attractive alternative.
"He's a winner, plain and simple," SMU head coach June Jones says of Klemm, during a break from his vacation in Hawaii. "We gave him a chance and he's obviously paying big dividends already. He's got that special knack of connecting with kids, and we're going to be a better football team because of it."
In 2008, after playing on three Super Bowl-winning Patriot teams, Klemm, a University of Hawaii alum, was back in college at his alma mater, finishing his degree but fumbling for a future. That's when Jones, who coached Klemm at Hawaii, called with an offer to be a volunteer on his SMU staff. In the three years since, Klemm's landed a full-time job as the Mustangs' offensive line coach and, later, a promotion to SMU's recruiting coordinator. Rivals.com, the Internet recruiting bible, now ranks him as the top non-BCS recruiter in the nation, and Fox Sports named him the 2010 Conference USA Recruiter of the Year.
"I was just hanging out with nothing better to do when June called," says Klemm, who played offensive line for Jones' Rainbow Warriors in 1999. "I'm fortunate and blessed. He rolled the dice on me and I'm determined to help him win, and win big."
The best part of Klemm's recruiting is that it doesn't involve cash or cars or boosters or bent rules. His best asset is an ability to lure inner-city California kids out of their comfort zones—a task made easier by the fact that he was once that same kid. While the Showtime Lakers of Magic Johnson and Kareem-Abdul Jabbar were winning basketball titles at The Forum in the 1980s, Klemm was navigating the dicey surrounding streets of Inglewood.
"It's a rough area, no way around that," Klemm says. "I never got involved in drugs or gangs, but I probably hung out with some people I shouldn't have hung out with. It wasn't until I left and looked back that I realized what a dangerous culture it was."
He played high school football at a Santa Monica Catholic school, alongside former Cowboys defensive lineman and current ESPN NFL analyst Marcellus Wiley. When he took a recruiting visit to Hawaii, it was his first trip outside Los Angeles County.
"It was a whole new world," Klemm says.
He arrived to find a program in disarray. After red-shirting his freshman year, he played linebacker and tight end for three head coaches and five offensive coordinators in four years. When Jones arrived in Honolulu before his senior season, talking about a position change, Klemm's eyes rolled.
"He told me I should move to offensive line and I was like 'Whatever,'" Klemm says. "We had just gone 0-12 and I was just doing my time, waiting to get out of there. Marcellus (who played at Columbia) made it to the NFL, so I guess it was a dream, but it didn't feel realistic because we were losing and we were in Hawaii. Everything we did felt so far removed. But Coach Jones worked magic. With our team, and with me."
With Jones' pass-happy offense, Hawaii went 9-4, won a bowl game and turned Klemm into an NFL prospect, landing him invitations to the Senior and Hula Bowls. He was infamously drafted ahead of Brady (46th overall), and also played for the Green Bay Packers and Oakland Raiders before injuries ended his career in 2007.
"Each year he wins another Super Bowl or MVP, people always dig up my name," Klemm says of Brady.
When Jones called in 2008, it was only with an offer for Klemm to be an unpaid graduate assistant. Now 34, Klemm has evolved into Dallas' one-man, hard-streets-to-the-Hilltop welcome wagon. He goes to L.A. as one of the city's own, and always seems to haul back a player who will soon be one of SMU's own.
"I know what it's like to leave L.A.," he says, "and to be both excited and scared at the same time."
Klemm was directly responsible for eight of SMU's 27 commitments in 2010, including six three-star recruits and one four-star blue chip. Lubbock receiver Arrius Holleman turned down a scholarship from his beloved Texas Tech to play at SMU. Offensive lineman Dontae Levingston, a California kid who had nine total offers from national powers such as Florida and Oregon, signed. So did Conner Preston, a California quarterback who frustrated West Coast recruiters by committing to SMU before his senior season. And Klemm's grand prize, a monster defensive end from Los Angeles named Davon Moreland, will arrive in Dallas as SMU's biggest post-death penalty recruit.
"I think my choosing SMU helped Davon along and that feels good," Preston says from California. "I think that we have not even hit the surface of what SMU is capable of doing out here. If Coach Klemm keeps recruiting California like he has, there are a lot of kids they could get."
"I can relate to them because I was them," Klemm says. "Like me back then, they've never been anywhere. Some of them have no idea where Dallas is. They think it's all horses and cows. And there are schools that negatively recruit against us by telling them that our classes are too hard or that Dallas doesn't like black people. But once I get them here to SMU, the area and Coach Jones sells itself. I tell them that they're not making a four-year decision, but a 40-year decision. Football will end. But when they get their degree from SMU, the sky will always be the limit."
Also in Klemm's recruiting tool box are his childhood friends, several of whom are now prominent L.A.-area high school coaches. They serve as liaisons between him and their prized prospects. His tattoos form a bond. He's even—amazingly—turned an embarrassing liability into a fruitful asset.
That's right: Pony Excess.
The ESPN documentary aired last fall, detailing SMU's pay-for-play scandals of the '80s. Hired in early 2008, Jones had already begun the slow process of resurrecting the program from its infamous "death penalty," which saw the 1987 season canceled. The team has played consecutive bowl games for the first time since the "Pony Express" glory days of Eric Dickerson and Craig James. And because of Klemm, the Mustangs are nabbing recruits they have no business even approaching. If the Mustangs—who open the 2011 season September 4 at Texas A&M—play to their sudden recruiting prowess, they should only get better.
And in a way, Klemm says, they'll have the movie to thank.
"I mention SMU at first and they get this bewildered look," Klemm says. "Some of these kids thought SMU was some little Division II school. But that show opened a lot of young eyes. The feedback is much more positive than negative. Kids are like, 'Wow, Coach, SMU used to win big time.' And I tell them we're going to do it again. But this time we're going to do it the right way."
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