The first time Christopher Vizzina met Dabo Swinney, they didn’t talk as a top quarterback recruit and a national championship-winning college football coach.
They talked like two Alabama guys crossing paths in South Carolina, with Vizzina, from Birmingham, listening in wonder as Swinney, from nearby Pelham, started name-dropping his favorite local restaurants from his formative years in the Yellowhammer State.
“He immediately had that edge,” Vizzina told The State. “It was so much easier to trust him and build a relationship because he was so easy to talk to. … He’s bringing up certain spots you’d only know if you lived there, and I’m thinking, ‘Man, no other coach would be saying that.’ ”
If Swinney’s hole-in-the-wall food recommendations were the opener, the backdrop of that initial conversation with Vizzina — Swinney’s office, chock full of regalia from two national championships and eight ACC titles — was the closer.
Vizzina felt the pull of the Tigers’ family atmosphere and national brand from the start, he said, and made good on that gut feeling with an April 2022 verbal commitment to Clemson. Now, with Wednesday’s early signing period upon him, the four-star recruit can’t wait to make it official.
“It’s the perfect place for me,” he said.
Vizzina, hailing from Birmingham’s Briarwood Christian School, arrives at Clemson next month as the No. 6 quarterback nationally and No. 39 overall recruit in the Class of 2023. He’s also one of the top players in the Tigers’ 25-man signing class, which ranks 10th in the country nationally per 247Sports.
But it wasn’t always that way.
On the radar
Neither of Vizzina’s parents played college sports. A longtime wide receiver, he didn’t start playing quarterback on a full-time basis until ninth grade. As his friends in the football-rich state of Alabama rubbed elbows with Power Five coaches and picked up offers as freshmen, he heard from UAB.
Even with some good film at Briarwood Christian and some good offers (Kentucky, Mississippi State, Duke), Vizzina entered the summer of 2021 as a lesser-known three-star recruit — a fair assessment, he says now, because “going into that, I hadn’t really put myself on display yet” as a rising junior.
A month later, he was essentially going throw for throw with five-star recruit Arch Manning at a Clemson football camp — and proving to coaches on site that while Manning might’ve been their top recruiting target at the time, he, too, could be their QB anchor in the 2023 class.
“I’d say I just balled out,” Vizzina said. “I showed them I could sling it. Watching someone on film is different from watching someone in person, and they watched every single rep. They watched me throw great. They watched me make some mistakes. But once they saw who I was, they were like, ‘Man, this might be our guy.’”
Quarterback dominoes fell from there, as they often do in the world of recruiting. Manning visited Clemson in November. Clemson got a commitment from five-star 2022 quarterback Cade Klubnik (now the team’s Orange Bowl starter) in February. Manning reportedly removed the Tigers from consideration a few days later.
All the while, even when he didn’t hold an offer, Clemson was “recruiting me really hard,” Vizzina said. The Tigers had been keeping informal tabs on him since his freshman year, and quarterbacks coach Brandon Streeter, since promoted to offensive coordinator, got involved when he was a sophomore.
Clemson formally extended Vizzina a scholarship offer in November 2021, a move that prompted another round of major offers and, at one point, elevated Vizzina to coveted five-star recruit status in the 247Sports Composite rankings that factor in various sites’ evaluations. (He reverted to a four-star recruit this month thanks to a minor statistical drop and and fierce competition from other similarly ranked QBs vying for a limited number of five-star spots in the class.)
On the heels of a strong junior season (2,665 total yards, 31 total touchdowns), Vizzina committed to Clemson in April and quickly became the unofficial spokesman of the Tigers’ 2023 recruiting class, which started slow but picked up the majority of its commitments and serious momentum this summer.
Clemson’s current 25-player class ranks second in the ACC behind Miami and tenth nationally with an average recruit ranking of 91.07 (out of 100). The class has one five-star recruit — Thompson (Ala.) defensive lineman Peter Woods, a good friend of Vizzina — and 18 four-star recruits.
Six players, Vizzina included, rank among 247Sports’ top 150.
“We don’t really care about the rankings, but overall, I just don’t feel like that’s right,” Vizzina said. “If you really watch the film and stuff like that, this is a top 5 class or the top class in the country. … You have high-character people playing high-level football. Everybody we have in this class is just perfect for Clemson.”
Vizzina averaged 203.1 passing yards per game as a senior at Briarwood Christian and threw 16 touchdowns against seven interceptions in nine games.
A 6-foot-4, 217-pound QB who prides himself on dual-threat ability as well as his deep ball, he also racked up 941 rushing yards and 26 rushing touchdowns in his last two seasons as a starter (20 games).
It’s a unique playing style, one Vizzina feels no other quarterback in the class of 2023 has, and he’s ready to refine it at Clemson starting in January as an early enrollee.
With Klubnik entrenched as Clemson’s starter for the foreseeable future, Vizzina’s current place on the spring ball depth chart seems clear: competing for No. 2 duties with Hunter Helms, Trent Pearman and, if applicable, any transfer portal quarterback Clemson decides to bring in.
But with a skillset that earned him national buzz at this summer’s Elite 11 camp and a sense of confidence that shines through clear as day, Vizzina isn’t shy about making his long-term goals clear — or following in the footsteps of former Clemson quarterback greats such as Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence.
“That just shows me you can do anything at Clemson,” Vizzina said. “You wanna be an NFL quarterback? You wanna be a national champion? You wanna be a doctor? You can do anything. … I know that I’m gonna be in the best position possible.”
Getting to know Christopher Vizzina
A few more nuggets from The State’s interview with Vizzina:
Favorite NFL QB: Josh Allen
Favorite throw: Briarwood Christian, a private school, was hosting Spain Park, a nearby 7A public school, in Week 2 of the regular season this year. The Lions trailed 21-17 with 58 seconds left before Vizzina led an eight-play, 68-yard touchdown drive. “I threw this ball right over the fingertips of the linebacker in the back of the end zone to beat them on the last play. That one was really fun — the place went crazy.”
Favorite musical artist: Drake
Favorite movie or TV show: “I used to really enjoy the QB1 show on Netflix. I wish they would have kept making it. And I really like ‘The Office.’ That’s a pretty generic answer (laughs).”
Favorite non-Clemson visit during recruitment: Clemson was Vizzina’s only official visit. During his junior year, though, he took unofficial gameday visits almost every weekend. He visited Florida when the No. 11 Gators hosted No. 1 Alabama in The Swamp and lost 31-29 in an instant classic. “That was so loud.”
Favorite non-Clemson coaches during recruitment: Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin and Ohio State QBs coach Corey Dennis. “Definitely the most interesting. … Football-wise, they both showed me a lot and I feel like I took away a lot.”
Favorite cheat meal: “Definitely Chick-fil-A. I’ll get two chicken sandwich meals, both with fries, and a blue Powerade and then a 10-piece nugget (entrée). And I get buffalo sauce and ranch, open up the sandwiches and pour that on the chicken. And no pickles. Put this in there: In my opinion, no pickles on chicken sandwiches are allowed. That should not be OK.” Vizzina’s father is a chef, so he’s been eating healthy his whole life. “When I do go to Chick-fil-A, I really really take advantage.”