After watching Alex Spence miss kicks from 35 and 39 yards out in last week’s loss to Syracuse, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney knew it was time to step up the competition at placekicker and give somebody else an opportunity.
Since starter Greg Huegel, an All-ACC kicker in 2016, tore his ACL the Wednesday before the Boston College Game on Sept. 23, Spence has made just two of his first six attempts. Following the Syracuse game, Swinney declared the junior has had enough opportunities to prove himself and that they would have to start looking elsewhere during the Tigers’ week off.
Swinney began that process on Wednesday, as he called up Drew Costa, a senior engineering major at Clemson, to walk-on and compete for the starting placekicker position. Costa is battling Spence and Christian Groomes for the job.
“I told him he is on a day-to-day contract … kicking contract,” Swinney said. “You know the NBA they have those ten-day contracts. I said, ‘you are on a day-to-day kick-to-kick (deal).’”
Costa tried out for the team a few years back when Huegel also tried out.
“We really liked him in the fall, but we did not have a spot so we inventoried him, what we call inventory,” the Clemson coach said. “So we said, you know, we are going to bring him back in the spring so we brought him back in the spring and he had like hernia surgery so he could not kick. He could not do anything so that is when we found Huegel.
“Then we bring Huegel out for the fall and we did not have another spot for another kicker. However, he has always kind of been right there on the fringe.”
Swinney had not spoken with Costa the last two years, but when he called the senior up and asked if he would be interested in walking on, Costa said, “Yeah!”
“There are no promises, but we have a spot,” Swinney said. “We had to go through compliance and clearance and all that stuff, and we will see what happens.”
Swinney introduced Costa to the team prior to Wednesday’s practice.
“It is like Tuesday practice in the NFL,” Swinney said. “On Tuesday’s practice they are bringing people in to take your job. So I’m bringing somebody in to see if we can make these guys a little bit better.”
Besides Spence, Groomes and Costa, linebacker James Skalski is also working on kicking as is walk-on wide receiver Ryan Mac Lain.
“It is tough sledding right now,” Swinney said.
Swinney said he still believes in Spence because has seen him do it on the practice fields.
“Sometimes it takes guys a little longer to transition to the field,” he said
The Clemson coach used former All-ACC kicker, now NFL kicker, Chandler Catanzaro has a perfect example of how to hang in there when things are not going right.
“He could not make a kick as a freshman,” Swinney said. “I would watch him every day and he would make them and then we would get to the game and he just could not do it. It was just a struggle. He had a real story transferring it to game day. But we all know the rest of the story. He was unbelievable, and he still is.
“Alex has not had a lot of work. It is a big task. He has been around here, but he has not played. He just has to punch through that mental hurdle, but physically, he can do it. I know he made a couple of bad kicks the other night that don’t even look like kicks, but that is not him. It really is not. That is just more the moment is kind of winning on him right there. He can physically do it and Groomes can do it.”