Last January after Clemson’s loss to Alabama in the national championship game, Clemson tight end Jordan Leggett faced what is a tough decision for some college football underclassmen with NFL talent, whether to return to school for his senior season or declare early for the NFL Draft.
But for Leggett, despite having had one of the best seasons by a tight end in school history, the choice wasn’t really that difficult. While teammates such as Mackensie Alexander, Jayron Kearse, T.J. Green and Kevin Dodd needed time to mull over their options ahead of the decision deadline the following week, Leggett was ready to inform reporters of his return in the immediate aftermath of the championship bout, and that’s what he did.
During an interview with the media in August, donning his hat from the national championship game, Leggett admitted the decision wasn’t easy. However, Leggett’s faith in Clemson’s potential to play for the national title game again, and the opportunity to get his college degree, in his mind together outweighed the opportunity to leave early for pro football.
Four months later, after playing a key role in Clemson’s second straight ACC Championship victory and second straight berth in the College Football Playoff, Leggett’s faith in his team has been rewarded.
“I definitely think I made the best decision,” Leggett said after Clemson’s 42-35 win over Virginia Tech in the ACC championship game last Saturday. “I mean just being in the position that we are now, having a chance to go fight in the postseason again and hopefully go to the national championship, that’s really what I came back for. I’ve believed in this team the whole time, and it’s paying off for us.”
In Saturday’s ACC Championship victory, Leggett caught two touchdown passes in the first half as Clemson built a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
The pair of touchdowns brought Leggett’s season total to 18, which tied former Clemson wide receiver Terry Smith for sixth on Clemson’s all-time touchdown list.
Leggett also recorded 49 yards receiving and now ranks second on the team with 637 yards receiving.
The senior from Navarre, Fla., passed Dwayne Allen for the single-season receiving yardage record by a Clemson tight end while becoming the first Tiger tight end to post at least 600 receiving yards in a season.
Leggett already held Clemson records for career touchdown receptions, career receptions and career receiving yards with 16 touchdowns, 100 receptions and 1,450 receiving yards entering the game.
“It definitely felt good,” Leggett said of finding the end zone twice to help the Tigers win. “Our offense was rolling early on and then we kind of stumbled, but our defense picked it up. We try to compliment each other as much as possible, and then whenever they dial my number up, I try to capitalize and just make it happen.”
Leggett, who scored the game-winning touchdowns in Clemson’s wins over Louisville and Florida State earlier this season, was recently named one of three finalists for the John Mackey Award, given annually to the top collegiate tight end.
Michigan’s Jake Butts and Alabama’s O.J. Howard are the other finalists. The winner will be announced tomorrow.
Leggett was also a finalist for the award in 2015.
“I’m just happy I’m a finalist for it, just like last year,” Leggett said. “I’m still going up against some great talent at tight end, so we’ll see what the committee makes their decision on.”
On Tuesday, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson was named the winner of the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, which is presented each year to the top senior quarterback in college football.
Watson, who accounted for five touchdowns in the ACC championship game, has totaled 20 touchdowns rushing and passing over Clemson’s last five games while averaging 356.8 total yards of offense in those games.
Since Clemson’s lone loss to Pittsburgh on Nov. 12, Clemson’s offense has averaged 44.3 points per game and 516 yards of offense per game.
Leggett feels that he, Watson and the Tigers have gained much momentum heading into their College Football Playoff semifinal matchup against Ohio State at the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz., on Dec. 31.
“Just from this game right here, we have a lot of momentum going forward,” Leggett said. “I know (Watson) is very confident now with his momentum going forward, so we have to go practice like we normally do and get better and focus in the next game.”
As he has all along, Leggett believes Clemson is capable of winning it all.
“This team is special,” Leggett said. “We’re all out there playing for the person inside us. … Having everybody that is playing for each other is going to take us a long way.”
Personally, Leggett would love a rematch with Alabama in the championship game after the Tigers fell just short to the Crimson Tide a season ago.
“Like they say, you have to beat the best to be the best,” Leggett said.
Clemson has accomplished all of the goals listed on its goal board to this point after winning the opener, winning the division, winning the state championship and winning the ACC.
Now, Clemson is working toward its last goal — win the closer.
It’s the goal Leggett came back to accomplish, and Clemson is in position to do just that.
“We just have to stay humble and keep focused on what’s in front of you and don’t even worry about the other stuff,” Leggett said. “Everything will take care of itself.”