By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
It seemed like a really good idea when Tyler Shatley suggested the Clemson entire offensive line hit the bowling lanes prior to the start of training camp earlier this month.
The group had already been spending a lot of time together during the summer, and this was one final night to go out together and have some fun before all the hard work in preparing for fifth-ranked Georgia on Aug. 31.
Brandon Thomas, the Tigers’ starting left tackle, and the rest of the guys figured it was just a simple night of bowling, hanging out and having a good ole time with friends. Then Shatley walked in.
Known for being reserved and kind of laid back, the Tigers starting right guard came in sporting a bowling shirt, gloves and was caring a bowling bag. He was there for business, not pleasure.
“It was kind of intimidating,” Thomas recalled. “I sit down and I’m putting on my rental shoes and then he pulls out the bag and the shoes. He pulls out the ball and shines it up. He sits it down and just waits on everybody.
“It’s like, ‘Okay, I see you! Okay!’”
Shatley, who bowls in the mid to high 200s, did okay. In fact he cleaned house, though Thomas wouldn’t totally give way to that.
“He is pretty nice. He has a little drop spin thing that he does,” Thomas said. “He has his own ball, own shoes and everything. It’s alright! My game is pretty nice, too. I’m up there with him.
“I like to think my game is nice.”
What’s even nicer is the way the offensive line is coming together in camp. Both head coach Dabo Swinney and offensive coordinator Chad Morris have been singing the praises of their big guys up front for much of the first two weeks. In last Saturday’s first stadium scrimmage of the summer, the offensive line opened up some nice holes for running back Zac Brooks and Roderick McDowell. The two combined to average 9.9 yards on 11 carries.
Swinney says they have given this year’s offensive line the nickname, “The Union.”
“You want that group to be a unified group that has each other’s back and looks out for each other,” the Clemson coach said. “It has been fun. I think they have grown very close as a group. They kind of move like a herd of cattle everywhere they go.”
Since the summer workouts started back in May, the offensive line has seemingly done everything together. They go to the grocery store, they go out to eat, they play video games, they go to the movies and, yes, they go bowling together.
“Those guys are really close group. It’s not just a couple of guys, either, they all hang out,” said quarterback Tajh Boyd, who sometimes joins them on their excursions.
“It’s about building relationships. It’s camaraderie,” Boyd continued. “These guys are putting their health on the line for me. It’s important to help them out. If there is anything I can do to make sure I show them how appreciative I am, whether it’s taking them bowling or to the movies or out to eat, I’ll do whatever it takes.”
The idea of coming together actually started through group messaging. As Shatley and Thomas, the two seniors, talked about ways in which they could make the unit come closer together.
“We have bonded a lot over the summer,” Thomas said. “We have a little group text thing going on. We tell jokes in there. We put videos and pictures and stuff up. We have good laughs.
“It has really helped us bond.”
So far that bond is paying off. With four starters back in Thomas, Shatley, left guard David Beasley and right tackle Gifford Timothy, the offensive line is coming off the ball with a lot more fire and confidence.
“We have a lot of confidence this year,” Thomas said. “Only losing one guy, in Dalton Freeman, and we have everybody coming back, it gives us a lot of confidence. We know what we are doing because we played all last year.
“With (Ryan) Norton coming back at center, he played a lot last year, too, I think we have a lot of confidence in our core group and our second and third team as well.”
Swinney says all the time the unit has spent together has so far paid off in camp, and he feels it will carry over into the regular season as well.
“That is encouraging, especially when you only have two seniors in the group,” he said. “You have a lot of guys that are going to be around here for a few more years. They are maturing.”