Deon Cain was on top of the world during his freshman campaign.
In the second half of the 2015 season, he became Clemson’s big-play threat, catching five touchdowns in the last six games of the regular season. Overall, he caught 34 balls for 582 yards and averaged a team-high 17.1 yards per catch.
With star wideout Mike Williams out with a neck injury, Cain became “the man” in the Tigers’ offense. Though he was just a freshman, he played a big role in leading the Tigers to another ACC Championship.
But sometimes, when someone gets a little too big, or tries to take advantage of their somewhat celebrity status, humility usually steps to the forefront.
Cain will probably say that long car ride back to Clemson from Miami, Florida last December was a humbling experience. Two days before the College Football Playoff semifinal game against Oklahoma at the Orange Bowl, Cain was suspended from the team after failing a drug test.
The Tampa, Florida native missed the Tigers’ win over the Sooners, and then did not play in the national championship game, either, against Alabama. Though his teammates played hard and gave it their all, Cain knew, while watching the game back in Clemson, he could have helped had he not been so selfish.
“I can say it made me mentally strong. It taught me to make smarter decisions on and off the field,” Cain said. “It helped me improve as a person.”
The experience motivated Cain. Though he was suspended from spring practice as well, the 6-foot-2, 218-pound wide out worked extremely hard to get back in the good gracious of head coach Dabo Swinney.
He added 18 pounds of muscle. He improved in the classroom and he did everything Swinney asked of him, and when he got his chance and was reinstated to the team, he has made the most of each opportunity.
“He came back with the right mindset and we don’t anticipate that he’s going to change,” Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. “He’s been solid all year and the result you’re seeing is the production he is having on the field so obviously, I think, in his mind we’re not revisiting the past.
“You know obviously he dealt with that, and then made it right, and now we’re moving forward and we expect that he’s going to take care of his business the way he supposed to.”
Cain definitely took care of his business on the field. After a few early drops to start the season, he again came on strong in the second half of the year, leading second-ranked Clemson with a 19.4 yards per catch average. His 621 yards rank third on the team, while his nine touchdowns are second behind Williams’ 10.
“I really do not try to think about (last year) too much. I know once I got out there, I just wanted to prove myself and just make the best out of every opportunity I have, really,” said Cain.
And now, a year later, Cain has an opportunity to make up for lost time. Clemson is back in the College Football Playoff and will play Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Eve as one of the two national semifinal games.
Cain knows he can be a difference maker for the Tigers, especially in games where the talent is so evenly matched.
“Really anytime the ball is coming my way I just try to make an opportunity. So really, I just know my role right now is anything. I just know when the ball is coming my way I need to make a play,” he said.