During football’s offseason, much of our time is spent trying to anoint certain programs based upon various factors. Who gets recruited, who gets drafted, who is productive, who wins championships—we create categories for everything.
There’s no greater compliment to a program than to be named a “U”—Wide Receiver U, Quarterback U, Linebacker U, etc. This means the program being discussed is the leader in accumulating and developing a certain position group into a collection of valuable players at the next level.
These designations are highly coveted by coaches looking to haul in blue-chippers on the recruiting trail. That’s why Tennessee and Clemson have battled for months via social media regarding the so-called “WRU” moniker. Coaches and fans alike have weighed in, and quite frankly, the Tigers have pretty much ended this discussion and claimed the mantle.
Allow me to enter another submission into this space: Freak U.
The qualifications for this one are fairly subjective. Basically, a school attracts and deploys players whose exploits incite awe and wonder from third-party viewers and analysts. Videos, GIFs, Vines in a previous social media universe—all of them help create the narrative that a player is a “freak” in the world of college football.
This may be sacrilege in this space, but the first image I see when I think this way is the Jadeveon Clowney hit against Michigan in a bowl game that knocked the ball carrier’s helmet off of his head. People from all over the place (including me) dissected the heck out of the play, trying to discredit it because the runner was stationary or some other reason.
But the play was amazing. It was a fact. Clowney was a freak, and now we had an image to prove it.
In today’s college football, Clemson just might be Freak U. The Tigers are stockpiling these kinds of players, one after another, recruiting class after recruiting class. We are at the point now where the storylines write themselves. As one so-called “freak” graduates or exits the program, another arrives to take his place.
By now, you’ve probably seen the Xavier Thomas bull rush of a five-star left tackle at The Opening over the weekend. The Clemson commit has become a viral sensation almost overnight for the dominating force he applied to another uber-talented recruit in the 2018 class.
He looks like a freak.
Spend a little time to look up the things national analysts and those familiar with the Georgia high school scene say about Trevor Lawrence. Watch him in drills, in games, in a combine setting.
He looks like a freak.
Remember when Deshaun Watson threw a touchdown pass to Charone Peake through a pin-sized gap on a seam route underneath coverage on his first collegiate possession, on the road, against a nationally-ranked Georgia team featuring a number of pros on its defense?
He looked like a freak.
Christian Wilkins came to Clemson and dominated in a deep defensive tackle rotation as a freshman, then he moved to defensive end and dominated as a 300-pounder with his combination of speed and strength. He may play both positions this season. Also, have you seen him do a split?
Sounds like a freak to me.
Dexter Lawrence somehow came into camp last January as a well-conditioned athlete weighing 340 pounds who was supposed to be in high school. That combination doesn’t exist anywhere else on the planet. He’s pretty good at football, too.
I’d say he’s a freak.
What about Mitch Hyatt? He’s a freak because he came to Clemson in January, played 1,000 snaps at left tackle for an elite national program as a true freshman, and people barely said his name because he was that good at his job keeping the nation’s best pass rushers away from his quarterback. He seems like the antithesis of the others, but that’s precisely the point.
That’s uncommon. He’s a freak.
How many other schools have these stories? In our social media savvy society, you can’t hide these kinds of things any longer. Twitter finds these kinds of players, and it finds them more frequently at Clemson than at any other program in the country.
Part of it may be a culture at Clemson that allows individuals to stand out in the crowd. Dabo Swinney hasn’t sacrificed the collective to make this happen, but he also hasn’t allowed individual talent to trump team goals. There’s a healthy balance rarely achieved at a time when coaches seem to swing to one extreme or the other.
I nominate Clemson for “Freak U.” I’m sure some fan out there will second it, and I’m not sure there’s another program in college football that could mount a challenge.
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