BRADENTON, Fla. — The first stop on The Clemson Insider’s Tour of Champions at IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) concluded on Friday night with the Ascenders’ season opener versus Carol City (Miami Gardens). IMG defeated Carol City by a score of 41-22.
Here is a bunch of notes from what we saw and heard during the contest:
** There were two weather (lightning) delays early in the game, both of which lasted about 30 minutes. The first occurred after the first snap of the game and the second occurred after snap No. 3.
** There was some bad blood between the teams early on. As the teams jogged toward their respective locker rooms following the first weather delay, they started jawing at each other before getting in each other’s faces to continue the trash-talking. One of the referees told us during one of the delays that he was getting ready to pull out his notepad and start writing down numbers that would have been disqualified, but thankfully it didn’t come to that.
** Surprisingly, the home stands appeared to be less than halfway full for the first game of the season. What the game lacked from an atmosphere standpoint, it certainly made up for in talent.
** It wasn’t heard to tell that Clemson linebacker commit Mike Jones is a critical part of the heart and soul of the team. Jones, who was one of the team’s captains for the game, is a vocal and emotional leader. He led the team onto the field for pregame warm-ups and again as it ran out of its tunnel before kickoff. During warm-ups, Jones yelled, “Y’all already know! Y’all know what time it is!” Jones might just be Clemson’s next Ben Boulware in terms of his leadership qualities.
** Speaking of Jones, I spoke to a member of IMG’s medical personnel about him. Jones’ personality has made an impression on this person, who called him “the nicest kid in the world.” The same person added that he’s noticed a vast physical transformation in Jones from his junior to senior year.
** Five-star defensive ends Xavier Thomas and Nolan Smith are an incredible combination coming off the edge for IMG. They set up camp and lived in the backfield all night, making life miserable for Carol City’s quarterback. They combined for a number of sacks, tackles for loss and quarterback pressures. Thomas and Smith are a perfect complement to one another, too. Thomas is the big-bodied player who provides power and is able to bull-rush his way to the quarterback, while Smith is a quick-twitch rusher with impressive quickness and speed. Smith showed why he is a five-star and the nation’s top defensive prospect in the class of 2019. He has tremendous potential and reminded us a lot of former Clemson defensive end Ricky Sapp.
Tonight, Thomas and Smith gave us a glimpse of what the future at Clemson could be like if the Tigers are able to flip Smith from his Georgia commitment. Clemson fans should be excited about that prospect.
** A few of the highlights served up by Thomas and Smith:
— Thomas had a quarterback hurry that helped force an interception.
— On one play, Thomas made a bee-line to the quarterback and proceeded to make him look like a rag doll by tossing him mercilessly to the ground.
— Aside from his sacks and tackles for loss, Smith gave great effort to block a punt. When he got to the sideline, he said, “Man, after eight tries, I finally got one.”
** Standing on the sideline, you could get a feel for some of the players’ personalities. Smith is one with a big, bubbly personality. He is a high-energy and easy-going guy. He could be seen on more than one occasion dancing on the sideline to the music that played over the loudspeaker.
** IMG’s punter/kicker, Aidan Swanson, accounted for one of the game’s top highlights when he executed a fake-punt pass to perfection for a touchdown. Swanson competed at the Dabo Swinney Camp in June and received a preferred walk-on offer from Swinney after his showing. You could see why he earned the offer as he has a big leg. He punted well and consistently booted balls deep into the end zone for touchbacks. Of note, Swanson’s mother is a Clemson graduate.
** One prospect from IMG in the class of 2020 to know is wide receiver Jermaine Burton. Just a sophomore, Burton started the game and looked very smooth out there. His long frame doesn’t look like that of a typical sophomore’s. Neither does his offer sheet, which includes the likes of Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia and Southern Cal.
** A few other names from IMG worth knowing: 2020 athlete Avantae Williams, 2020 running back Miles Friday and 2020 safety Lejond Cavazos. All of them already own double-digit offers as sophomores.
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