CLEMSON — Get old and stay old.
That is the philosophy for many programs in college athletics, and for elite programs in college football, it is no different. Yes, talent can leave early for the NFL Draft, but teams must make sure there is plenty of experience in the two-deep to give younger players needed time to grow and develop.
In 2021, Clemson will have a ton of young talent teaming up with an abundance of experienced players. Thanks to the return of some super seniors, the Tigers will have veterans ready to impact the team in all three phases.
On the line of scrimmage, redshirt senior Matt Bockhorst is the unquestioned leader of the group. The former four-star recruit from Cincinnati will set the tone from his left guard spot.
“It’s definitely a crazy feeling looking up in the first team meeting of the year, and being one of the oldest guys in the room,” said Bockhorst. “Obviously we do have a few sixth-year guys back, but with the exception of those guys, the few fifth-year guys from my class are the oldest guys on the team, which is crazy to think about my journey at Clemson and where we’ve started and where I’ve come.”
At the skill positions, running back Lyn-J Dixon and tight end Braden Galloway provide experience and proven playmaking ability. The Tigers are set to be very young on offense, but these three players will help provide stability throughout the 2021 season.
In the trenches, Xavier Thomas is back for his senior season. The former five-star recruit only played seven games last season after first planning to sit out the year due to COVID-19 and strep throat. However, the Florence, S.C. native is ready to roll this season and has a chance to be a star. He’ll be joined by redshirt senior Justin Foster, who is making a return after initially retiring from the game due to COVID-19 complications.
“For me, the decision came when I went to Duke a couple of weeks ago and the doctor was positive on me recovering in the near future,” Foster said this spring. “In the next month or two, she thought I’d recover enough to compete at the college level, and she motivated me and said that if I wanted to play again, she’d encourage me to and support me and she would do the best she could to get me back healthy. She believed that I will be healthy and, for me, that was a big stepping stone.”
This will give Clemson two solid defensive end options that have recorded a combined 40 tackles for loss in their careers.
At linebacker, James Skalski is back for his super senior season and will be teaming up with redshirt senior Baylon Spector to give the “Bruise Brothers” one more run. The duo combined to collect 116 tackles and 14 tackles for loss last season.
Over in the secondary, Nolan Turner is also a super senior, back for his sixth year on campus. The Alabama native has 190 tackles, 17 pass breakups and six interceptions in his career. Cornerback Mario Goodrich joins Turner in the secondary. Goodrich could play multiple roles for defensive coordinator Brent Venables.
The Tigers have a ton of seniors at their disposal on defense.
Clemson has one of the most experienced kicking games in college football.
B.T. Potter returns as the starting placekicker, and the veteran has made 71.11 percent of his 45 field goat attempts in his career. At punter, Will Spiers is a super senior who averaged 44 yards per attempt last fall. Dabo Swinney believes the former walk-on has a chance to make an NFL roster.
Clemson’s third phase is in great shape.