After Clemson’s first scrimmage of fall camp in August, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said freshman running back Tavien Feaster was running in “fourth gear,” but he needed him to run in fifth gear.
During the scrimmage, Feaster broke Clemson’s longest run of the day, a 34-yard burst. But had Feaster taken full advantage of his explosive speed, it would have been about a 60-yard touchdown run.
“The biggest thing with Feaster is it’s so easy to see his talent, I think he’s just got to learn to play in another gear,” Swinney said then. “He was kind of cruising a little bit. He’s got to learn to cut it loose a little bit more, but he’ll get there.”
Swinney was right — Feaster has gotten there now.
On Tuesday, Feaster admitted that early in preseason practice, he was running the ball skittishly, afraid to make a mistake.
“When I first got here, I was just trying to make no mistakes, trying to be perfect,” Feaster said.
“I knew I was playing a little bit shy and wasn’t really playing my game because I was trying to play mistake-free,” he added.
Eventually, Feaster reached a turning point when he realized that mistakes are a natural part of the game, and that mistakes are going to be made whether he’s running 100 percent or not.
Eventually, he realized that it’s better to make those mistakes playing full speed.
“I think I just stopped trying to play mistake-free, and just play football,” Feaster said. “Once I let it loose, I understand I can make a mistake, and if I make a mistake at 110 percent, it’s not going to be that noticeable. It’s something I did notice, but once (Swinney) said that, I was like okay, I have to go, stop being shy and embrace everything.”
Feaster said he went through a similar adjustment period in high school.
“I was like that my freshman year,” Feaster said. “I didn’t want to make mistakes in high school, but towards the end, when my junior and senior years came around, I was so comfortable that I just went out there and played without even thinking about it.”
Playing fast isn’t the only mental hurdle Feaster has had to overcome early in his college career.
After undergoing surgery in February to repair a torn labrum injury in his left shoulder that he suffered during his junior year of high school, Feaster had to learn to trust his body again in practice.
At first, he was scared to get hit. Now, he’s not worried about it.
“When I first got here, I didn’t want anybody to touch it, so I was running a little bit skittish,” Feaster said. “But I knew it’s football — you have to turn it on and you have to play. So when I got that in the back of my mind, I was like hey, it’s over. It’s going to get hit. It’s going to hurt some days. Just go through it, and I think that was the turning point for me.”
Feaster credited Swinney for helping him make the strides he has, saying Swinney has pushed him every day and held him accountable for what he does on the field.
“As a young guy, you come in and you think, alright, I might not play, so I might not go as hard,” Feaster said. “But he wants you to play to that standard and be the best in case you get a chance and you can go out there and prove to everybody that you can play football.”
Feaster received his first playing time at Clemson in the Tigers’ 30-24 win over Troy on Saturday. The Spartanburg, S.C., native entered the game as a kickoff returner.
Feaster isn’t sure exactly what his role on the team will be moving forward, but he’s preparing to make the most of his opportunities as they come along.
“I expect my role to be handling kicks,” Feaster said, “and getting in and taking advantage of the opportunity when my number is called.”