This Saturday, when No. 5 Clemson host Kent State in the season opener for both schools, Justin Falcinelli will play his first game as the starting center in a Clemson uniform. It’s a dream come true for him and something that has really not even hit him just yet.
“We were just talking about that this morning,” the junior said. “It’s hard to believe that it’s first game week. So after going through camp and all that I’m just excited that it’s finally time to get going.”
Falcinelli has big shoes to fill replacing former Clemson center Jay Guillermo, who was a two-time All-ACC center and played a vital role in the Tigers run to a national championship last year, but he already feels comfortable in the role and he is confident he can live up to the expectations that have been set for him.
“I know that there is a lot expected of me and I need to perform to standard,” Falcinelli said Monday. “I’ve been playing with these guys my entire time here. We are all great friends. We are all hanging out here. I played next to Taylor (Hearn) my freshman year. I played next to Tyrone (Crowder) and Maverick (Morris), I’ve been swapped in a lot. I feel like I just fit right in. Just keep going.”
The Tigers’ new center said he has spoken with Guillermo several times and he has given Falcinelli advice and shown him how to be a great leader.
“He’s always very encouraging, a very strong leader,” Falcinelli said.
The run down the hill is something that will always be special and unique to the culture of Clemson, but running down it this Saturday as defending national champions is something that will make it even that much more special for Falcinelli and his teammates.
“That’s special,” Falcinelli said. “It’s still one of those things where now months later the gravity of winning a national championship still hasn’t set in and I know it’s something in a few years I’ll look back and be like, ‘That was insanely special.’ I think that now, but right now it’s still about having Kent State coming up. We have to go play them, we have to worry about that.”
Although winning the 2016 National Championship is something each and every player on the 2016 team will never forget, several players this week, including Falcinelli discussed having a “windshield mentality,” which is a term head coach Dabo Swinney has instilled into his players.
“That’s been our mentality here for the past couple of years and that’s what Swinney always says,” Falcinelli said. “Our windshield mentality. That was last year’s team, we didn’t do any of that. That was guys who aren’t here anymore. That’s all them. But it’s just reload. We’ve earned nothing yet. So we’ve got to earn whatever we are going to get.”
Falcinelli has been going against arguably one of, if not, the best defensive lines in the country each day in practice. So whatever this season may hold, he knows he is fully prepared and there is not anything or anyone he cannot handle.
“Better? Maybe, maybe not,” he said. “That’s tough. They are fantastic players. Getting to go against that everyday definitely helps so much because I know that when I get into a game I’m not going to see something crazy or something I’ve never before. Someone too big, too fast, too strong.”