Before Dwayne Allen became an NFL tight end, he muddled around the Clemson program for a couple of years. He wanted to be the starter, but he didn’t know how he was going to beat out then starter Michael Palmer.
Then the light came on. Allen figured out it wasn’t that Palmer was more talented than he was, Palmer just outworked him.
Once Allen figured out he can never let anyone else outwork him, he became a star. Before his Clemson career was over, Allen became a Consensus All-American and the winner of the John Mackey Award as the nation’s best tight end. Brandon Ford followed Allen’s lead and like Palmer and Allen before him, he became a First-Team All-ACC player.
A few years later, Jordan Leggett joined this exclusive group and took it a step further by becoming the first Clemson tight end since Bennie Cunningham in 1974 and 1975 to earn All-American honors in back-to-back years.
“At some point, the light kind of comes on from not only an athletic standpoint but from a maturity standpoint and from a belief that ‘I can do this. I can do this job,’” Clemson tight ends coach Danny Pearman said. “Confidence is ninety percent of it. If a kid believes not only in himself, but believes he can do that job then he can get out there and do it.
“That was kind of Jordan’s forte. For a while there he was just kind of happy to be here and be in the program. He kind of went at his own speed the first couple of years and then all of a sudden the light came on and he said, ‘You know what? I can do this. I can do it at a high level and I can perform at a high level,’ and then the hunger to do that precipitated and he ran with it.”
Leggett finished his career as perhaps the greatest tight end in Clemson history from a statistical standpoint. He shattered Allen’s, Cunningham’s and John McMakin’s game, single-season and career records for a tight end.
Leggett finished his career with 112 receptions for 1,598 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Now the question is who is next? Who will follow in the same path as Allen and Leggett and become the next great tight end at Clemson.
Milan Richard left the spring as the No. 1 guy, and the words “great potential” have surrounded Hershel Walker’s nephew ever since he stepped foot on campus. But in his first three years, Richard was like Leggett in his first two years in the program, he was just happy to be here.
But the light finally came on for Richard in the spring.
“The (tight end) position here in our offense is probably one of the more difficult positions to play,” Pearman said. “You have to be athletic enough to flex out there and put the fear of a pass receiver (in the defense), and that requires you to have to run routes.
“Most of the time these kids have run routes up, until they get to college, and normally they are open. When I mean open, they are wide open. Once you get to college, you are covered so you have to make a competitive catch, you have to do things to separate yourself in route running, you have to hit your spots and your marks. Usually the big kids that get open they can use their body to lean on obviously, but being able to catch the ball when it is contested, Milan showed those things and was consistent this past spring.”
But it does not mean the job is his. Pearman said he would not be surprised to see D.J. Greenlee or Cannon Smith win the job. However … “I don’t know if Milan has done everything to say he is that far out in front, but if we had to play today, I would say Milan will probably get the nod,” Pearman said. “However, we have a lot of practice to go before he is that guy.”
And who knows, maybe Richard will be Clemson’s “next guy” at tight end.
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