The media spoke with Clemson center Justin Falcinelli on Monday as the fifth-ranked Tigers began game week in preparation for Saturday’s season opener against Kent State in Death Valley.
Falcinelli, like several of his teammates, is excited about his first start in a Tiger uniform. With the starting spot come high expectations for the center who prepared in the off-season against some of the nation’s best defenders.
Question: How does it feel to get to start the game on Saturday?
Falcinelli: “It hasn’t really set in yet. We were just talking about this this morning, it’s hard to believe that it’s the first game week. After going through camp and all that I’m just excited that we’re finally there, finally time to get going.”
Question: What’s the dynamic been for you personally being the new starter among four returning guys in such a huge role at center?
Falcinelli: “I know there’s a lot expected of me and that I need to perform to a standard but I’ve been playing with these guys my entire time here. We’re all great friends. We’re all hanging out together. I played next to Taylor (Hearn) my freshman year. I played next to Tyrone (Crowder) and Maverick (Morris). I’ve been swapped in a lot. I feel like I just fit right in. just keep going.
Question: Do you feel like playing against Christian (Wilkins), Dexter (Lawrence) and (Albert) Huggins, do you think you’ll see anybody better all year long?
Falcinelli: “Better? Maybe, maybe not. That’s tough. They’re fantastic players. Getting to go against that every day definitely helps so much because I know when I get into a game I’m not going to see something crazy or someone I’ve never seen before, someone too big or too fast or too strong.”
Question: How well do you think this team has done in putting aside the success of last year and focusing on what’s ahead this year?
Falcinelli: “It’s been our mentality here for the past couple of years and that’s what coach Swinney always says … our windshield mentality. That was last year’s team. We didn’t do any of that. Those guys aren’t here anymore. That’s all them so it’s just a reload. We are nothing yet so we have to go out and earn anything we’re going to get.”
Question: Is that going to be difficult especially this Saturday? There will be 80,000 people who haven’t seen you guys play in the stadium since that championship.
Falcinelli: “I don’t think so. Our fans are great. They love us no matter what so just having them out there, they’ll encourage us. We’ll be good and then it’s just grinding and getting back to it, earning what we need to do.”
Question: How special will it be, you have run down the hill a lot already, but running down for the first time as defending national champions, for the first time really, ever at Clemson?
Falcinelli: “That’s special. It’s still one of those things where even now, months later, the gravity of winning the national championship still hasn’t set in and I know it’s something in a few years I’ll look back and be like ‘that was insanely special.’ I think that now we have Kent State coming up. We have to go play them and worry about that.”
Q: Do you think it’s going to be nuts though?
Falcinelli: “I hope so. I think our fans are pretty crazy. A noon game will be good.”
Question: Jay Guillermo said that center is the smartest guy. Someone told me the other day that you build computers.
Falcinelli: “It’s not from scratch. I’m into gaming so it’s gaming computers. There’s five or six different parts that you put together. It takes a little bit of research but they all click together fine.”
Question: How many have you put together?
Falcinelli: “I’ve had one that I’ve improved upon the past couple of years and then I built one for my parents so two or three.”
Question: How did you get into the gaming thing?
Falcinelli: “I’ve just played video games my whole life. I had a Nintendo64 as a little kid then a GameCube, PlayStation, Xbox, Xbox1 and then when I got here I started watching videos of PC gaming and I’m trying to get into that.”
Question: That’s not your major now?
Falcinelli: “No. I just graduated from the business school of management and I’m starting my MBA right now.”
Question: Has Jay Guillermo given you any words of wisdom or reached out lately?
Falcinelli: “Yeah I’ve talked to Jay a few times. He’s always very encouraging, very strong leader.”
Question: On goals for this year
Falcinelli: “All ACC is a pretty good goal. It’s a hard one to follow my first year starting but that and then Academic All American has always been my goal while I’ve been here. I’ve qualified for that so hopefully we can make that happen.”