The Clemson Insider was on location at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., for two days this week to start our Tour of Champions series. On Friday, we watched Clemson commitments Mike Jones, Xavier Thomas and second-ranked IMG Academy defeat No. 20 Carol City (Miami Gardens) by a score of 41-22.
After the game, TCI caught up with IMG head coach Kevin Wright, who spoke about Jones and Thomas:
Jones became the first member of Clemson’s 2018 class when he committed to the Tigers following the Dabo Swinney Camp in June 2015, and he is a leader of the class.
The four-star linebacker is also a leader for IMG, part of the heart and soul of the team. He was one of the captains for the contest and led the Ascenders onto the field for pregame warm-ups as well as out of the tunnel before kickoff.
Jones is a vocal leader and provides an emotional spark for his teammates. He is passionate about the game of football, and his energy helps fuel his teammates.
Before the game, Jones could be heard shouting, “Y’all already know! Y’all know what time it is!”
“Mike was one of our captains tonight. He’s done a great job in the preseason, and he is a leader,” Wright said. “He’s been here for a couple years now and he’s been around. He should be a guy out there leading the charges. I think our guys feed off his energy.”
Jones, Thomas and the Ascenders were lights-out defensively and set the tone in the first half as they allowed just one first down.
Thomas and fellow five-star defensive end Nolan Smith — a Clemson target in the class of 2019 who is currently committed to Georgia — combined for a number of sacks, quarterback pressures and tackles for loss. They put heat on Carol City’s quarterback and disrupted the opposing offense throughout the game.
“They did a tremendous job pressuring them,” Wright said. “Defensively, I thought we were really solid. Those guys can both run, they both pressure the quarterback, very athletic.”
Thomas, who transferred to IMG for his senior season from Wilson High in Florence, S.C., has endeared himself to Wright since he stepped foot on the school’s campus.
Not only does Thomas possess uncommon physical gifts and talent, but he has superior work ethic to go with it.
“He’s a high-effort guy,” Wright said. “He’s got physical tools that are really unmatched by most high school athletes. His ability to get off the football, his power, his strength, but I think really he’s a high-effort guy. You’ll see him chase the ball down from the other side of the field. He practices like that.
“So, humble kid, great kid to coach, and I think he’s right where he needs to be.”
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