The age-old saying in football is that the game is won or lost in the trenches. It still rings true today, and that’s why recruiting quality offensive and defensive linemen is crucial to success in college football.
Clemson has consistently done that under Dabo Swinney, and the Tigers are well-equipped to continue competing for championships moving forward after bringing in another stellar haul in the trenches, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
Clemson signed five defensive linemen on Dec. 20, the first day of the inaugural early signing period for college football recruits. The group includes defensive ends Xavier Thomas, K.J. Henry and Justin Mascoll, as well as defensive tackles Josh Belk and Darnell Jefferies.
Thomas, Henry and Belk are all rated as five-star prospects by at least one recruiting service, while Mascoll and Jefferies are both four-stars according to at least one service.
“You’d be hard-pressed to find five better in the country,” Swinney said. “Three of the best young defensive ends I’ve ever been around, and two of the best defensive tackles.”
Clemson’s trio of defensive end signees is highly acclaimed entering college.
Thomas (6-3, 260) is ranked as the No. 1 defensive prospect in the nation by Rivals and a unanimous national top-five prospect regardless of position. Henry (6-6, 235) is ranked as the No. 6 overall prospect in the country according to ESPN, and Mascoll (6-4, 237) checks in at No. 102 overall nationally per ESPN.
Thomas and Henry enrolled early in January and thus will be able to participate in spring practice.
“These guys are going to be fun to coach,” Swinney said.
Jefferies and Belk are early enrollees, as well.
Belk (6-3, 309) was bumped to five-star status and re-ranked as the No. 25 overall player in the country by 247Sports following his showing at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio last month.
“Not many people knew about Josh Belk,” Swinney said. “He went out to the Army Game with all the big boys, and they figured out who he was pretty quick.”
Jefferies, meanwhile, is a more underrated prospect that Swinney is glad to have gotten. The 6-foot-3, 285-pounder was named the Georgia Region 8-6A Defensive Player of the Year as a senior after logging 65 total tackles, including 19 tackles for loss and seven sacks.
“Darnell Jefferies looks like he’s 35,” Swinney said. “It’s unbelievable. It’s hard to believe that this is a young, high school senior going through spring ball.”
Clemson signed two standout offensive linemen, as well, in local product Jordan McFadden and Fairfield (Ohio) five-star Jackson Carman.
Swinney knows that the road to championships begins in the trenches, and Clemson signed a championship-caliber group up front in its latest class.
“That’s where championship football starts is in the trenches, and we certainly were able to do that,” Swinney said. “Obviously Jordan McFadden, the offensive lineman from Dorman (Roebuck, S.C.), to get him and then Jackson Carman, the number one offensive lineman in the country, the number one player in the state of Ohio to go along with these five D-linemen… It’s a pretty special group in the trenches.”