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Smith competing to make impact at tight end

First off, winning a national championship is not an easy thing to do. If it was, everyone would win one. Knowing that, imagine how special it would be to win a national championship and then 35 years later, your son does.

That was exactly the case for Bill Smith, Jeff Davis, Frank Magwood and Perry Tuttle. All four were a part of Clemson’s 1981 National Championship and then 35 years later were in Tampa, Fla., hugging the necks of their sons after they won the 2016 National Championship following a 35-31 victory over Alabama on Jan. 9.

“I still remember the feel of giving him a big hug after the game,” current Clemson tight end Cannon Smith said. “We were both crying. It was very emotional. We will share that until the day we die so it’s an honor to be able to share that with my dad.”

Bill Smith was a defensive tackle for the Tigers in 1981, and now serves on Clemson’s Board of Trustees.

“He said that ‘I’m super proud of you and what you and your teammates have accomplished. Just keep grinding and to enjoy the process,’” Cannon Smith said as he remembered that night.

Smith is now trying to continue the process as he battles it out with Milan Richard and Garrett Williams for the Tigers’ open spot at tight end. With Jordan Leggett moving on to the NFL, the tight end position is one of the more intriguing position battles this spring.

“We are doing an equal amount of reps and getting the same plays in, it’s just all the tight ends are competing and trying to be that all around guy,” Smith said. “We all have our strengths and weaknesses, but it is a good group of guys. I’m happy that I am competing with them.”

Replacing Leggett, a two-time All-American, will not be easy. He owns the Clemson career record for receptions, yards and touchdowns by a tight end, and last year tallied 46 catches for a record 736 yards and seven touchdowns.

In the last two years alone, Leggett combined for 15 touchdowns.

“He was a very talented guy and a great leader for us,” Smith said. “I really respect Jordan and I miss him a lot. He was a funny guy, too. We are just picking up where he left off. We are trying to carry on that legacy.”

The tight end legacy at Clemson goes all the way back to the only other time Clemson had a two-time All-America, way back in 1974 and ’75 with Bennie Cunningham. Since Dabo Swinney took over in 2009, the legacy continued with guys like Michael Palmer, Dwayne Allen, Brandon Ford and Leggett.

In seven of the last nine years, the ACC’s First-Team tight end has come from Clemson. So is Smith, Richard or Williams the next one in line?

“We are still trying to figure that out,” Smith said. “It is early in the spring and we are trying to build that chemistry and a leader will emerge where maybe all of us are having a leadership role. We will see how that goes as we go through the spring.”

Smith says the experience of competing for the starting job as been a great one so far. It has helped that he, along with Williams and Richard, have been in the system for a long time. He says they are leaning on each other to fix the mistakes they make and what they need to do in order to get better.

As for Smith, he is working on his game speed as well as running crisper routes.

“I feel like that is probably my main weakness right now. Coach Pearman and the other tight ends are giving me pointers and helping me out with that so I think I will be fine when it comes to that,” he said.

Photo Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

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