There is no doubt Clelin Ferrell, Austin Bryant and Christian Wilkins returning to Clemson for another season was huge for the Tigers in so many ways. The three have played a big role in some way or another in the Tigers’ success the previous three seasons.
“That means a lot, man, because obviously experience is huge in college football,” Ferrell said. “Just being able to have guys who have been there and know what it takes. Not even just have played in the game, but guys who have been to the pinnacle, guys that have played on the National Championship winning team before and know what it takes to get to that moment. That’s huge to have in your room.”
Ferrell, Wilkins and Bryant, along with junior Dexter Lawrence, make up what many say is the best defensive line in the country. Last year, they helped Clemson rank second nationally in scoring defense and fourth in total defense, while also leading the country in sacks.
However, their experiences mean more to Clemson than just what they do on the football field. It also translates to the younger players, like K.J. Henry and Xavier Thomas, who have the potential to be as good, if not better than Ferrell and Bryant in the future.
“It just brings more out of it because we have new guys coming in every year and we have young guys that we want to see it, as well. Our position rooms are very, very deep,” Ferrell said. “And like Coach (Dabo) Swinney tells us all the time, you’re not guaranteed to run out there first just because of what you did last year. You’ve got to go out there and earn it every single day, and that’s something I love about it because that’s how I got on the field.
“I had to go out there and compete with my peers in my position room when I was a redshirt freshman, to go out there and earn the starting job. So that’s what you’ve got to do every day, so it’s just going to bring the best out of all of us.”
Ferrell says watching other defensive ends like Thomas and Henry, along with Justin Foster and Xavier Kelly, get better and compete has been fun.
“I’ve always wondered like with just the hype that our defensive line gets, the front four, and then you still have guys like the No. 1 player (Thomas) coming in or a KJ Henry who’s regarded as a five star. And people ask them why you are going to a school where they’re already so-called deep in the defensive line,” he said. “But it’s because they know that they’re not afraid to come in and compete. They understand the great tradition there, and they understand that they have guys that aren’t just about themselves. We’re all about each other.”
Clemson’s All-American defensive end says he has been impressed how those guys have come in and been able to take constructive criticism and come in and work hard and make the progressions that they’ve made throughout the summer.
“Man, it’s been huge, and I love that about them,” Ferrell said. “I’m very hard on them because I want the best for them because if I see the best coming from them. It’s only going to make me better.
“So it’s been great to see them and they’re making great progress, so I’m excited for the fall, their first fall camp coming up. It’s like a dad seeing his kid go to school for the first time because they look up to me because they feel like I have some knowledge that is valuable to them. So I’m happy that I can be able to share some things with them, so it’s been really, really good to see.”
Hot off the press. ‘Back with a Vengeance’ is now available for online orders. TCI takes an in-depth look at the upcoming season as the Tigers march towards another national championship. Order your copy today!