BRADENTON, Fla. — When four-star linebacker Mike Jones and five-star defensive end Xavier Thomas step on Clemson’s practice fields next year, they will be as prepared as a player can be making the jump from the high school ranks to college football.
Jones and Thomas, two of Clemson’s commitments in the class of 2018, compete against the best of the best every day in practice at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
Going up against a bunch of the nation’s best talent on a regular basis is getting them ready for what they will see at the next level.
“One thing that you have to do here if you want to play is compete,” Jones told TCI during the first stop on our Tour of Champions at IMG Academy. “I learned to compete a whole year ago when I first got here. It was a tough challenge.
“Practicing every day at your old school is like regular practice. Here you have to bring it every day.”
IMG Academy’s roster is lined with future Division I stars. Since 2013, the program has produced 87 Division I commitments.
Both Rivals and 247Sports have 12 current players from IMG ranked among their top 250 prospects in the 2018 class, and at least seven players among their top 250 prospects for the 2019 class.
That includes top-50 overall prospects in the 2018 class such as defensive tackle Taron Vincent, an Ohio State commit; defensive back Brendan Radley-Hiles, a Nebraska commit; defensive back Houston Griffith and running back T.J. Pledger, as well as top-50 2019 prospects such as running back Trey Sanders, an Alabama commit; running back Noah Cain; offensive lineman Evan Neal and defensive end Nolan Smith, a Georgia commit.
Jones and Thomas are playing with and against top talent at virtually every position. They’re getting better because of it, and it should pay dividends down the road at Clemson.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Thomas said. “You come out here, you’re competing every day. No day is just a day you can take off. You’ve got to bring it every day, day in and day out, so you’re competing and you get better every day.”
Not only are the players at IMG surrounded by some of the country’s elite talent, the coaching staff is also the cream of the crop and knows how to develop its players.
All in all, IMG is helping prepare the future Tigers for their time at Clemson.
“It’s everything I thought it would be,” Thomas said. “It was a great opportunity for me to come here and get developed by some of the greatest coaches, and you’re going against top talent every day.”
“I have great brothers I’m surrounded with, a great staff that loves me like I’m their son,” Jones added. “Everyone around here is all supportive of you, and the facilities are second to none. It’s just an overall great experience.”
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