The first true physical test of Clemson’s fall camp came Tuesday when the Tigers held their first practice in full pads. The first two periods of the practice featured the PAW Drill, a physical drill in which the running backs run behind a truncated offensive line in a confined area against three defenders.
C.J. Fuller took the first-team reps at running back during the drill and ran determined. He was quick and explosive, and as such, he burst through the line on a couple of occasions.
Asked about his success during the drill, Fuller was quick to point elsewhere.
“The offensive line, they just created some holes today, and I was lucky enough to take advantage of it,” he said.
It’s hard work and not luck, though, that has resulted in Fuller having extra pep in his step this fall camp.
Listed at 210 pounds at the outset of last season, Fuller felt he got too heavy during the course of the year. After making an effort to trim down, he is back to 208 pounds, feels better than ever from a physical standpoint and intends to keep it that way.
Fuller said conditioning and eating healthier was his number one priority over the offseason and summer.
“Just getting in the best shape of my life,” he said. “That was something I was committed to over the summer is just trying to shave as much weight as I could off, trying to eat the best I could throughout this whole offseason and try to continue to do that this season.”
Fatigue became a bit of an issue for Fuller as last season wore on, so he wanted to improve his physical condition heading into his redshirt junior year.
“I would say I kind of got a little too big throughout the season, and I wasn’t able to play as many snaps without getting too winded,” he said. “I feel like losing this weight will be an advantage for me.”
Fuller’s weight may have gone up last season, but so did his confidence as he earned some opportunities in big games and capitalized on his chances.
The local product from Easley, S.C., recorded 64 total yards in Clemson’s rivalry victory over South Carolina, including an 18-yard touchdown reception, before posting a career-long 27-yard run as part of a 40-yard rushing effort in the ACC Championship game. He made his most memorable play in the Fiesta Bowl rout over Ohio State, when he hauled in a 30-yard touchdown strike from Deshaun Watson.
Now, Fuller of course is locked in a tight running back battle with redshirt junior Adam Choice and sophomore Tavien Feaster. Freshman Travis Etienne has impressed Clemson’s coaches early in fall camp and provided some additional competition for the veterans, too.
“Every day, we’ve just been coming out here grinding, giving the best effort,” Fuller said of the competition. “Everybody is coming out here, working and fighting for their jobs.”
Fuller doesn’t deny he wants to carry the load at running back and be the guy that replaces Wayne Gallman in Clemson’s backfield, as do his competitors.
But Fuller says he isn’t focused on his role right now as much as he is on daily improvement throughout the Tigers’ preseason practices.
“I feel like every day I’ve been getting a little bit better, and that’s my mindset, just to come out here and get better than I was yesterday,” Fuller said. “If it’s just blocking or finishing my runs or just reading the defenses, picking up blitzes, it’s something I’m trying to get better at every single day. That’s the mindset I’m taking this whole camp.”
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