With the media surrounding him at a table earlier this month inside the clubhouse at The Reserve on Lake Keowee following his annual media golf outing, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney sat back in his chair and chuckled, “This wouldn’t be a press conference without talking about Drew Costa.”
Drew Costa of course was a walk-on kicker last year that provided the Tigers some depth after starting kicker Greg Huegel went down with a torn ACL four weeks into the season. Costa became an overnight celebrity among the Clemson faithful and ultimately kicked off four times during the season.
The walk-on ended up pushing backup kicker Alex Spence as Huegel’s replacement and deserves credit for being the guy that helped solidify Clemson’s shaky kicking problems in 2017.
There do not seem to be any kicking issues this year for the Tigers, other than the fact Swinney will have to make a choice. Huegel is back and is ready to reclaim his job, while Spence is kicking as well as he ever has.
When fall camp begins on Friday, Huegel and Spence will start practice as co-starters.
“We will see what happens,” Swinney said. “We will let them all compete. It is real easy.”
Swinney’s says freshman B.T. Potter will also be in the mix. Potter was the No. 2 kicker in the country coming out of high school by Rivals. A four-year starter at South Pointe High School in Rock Hill, S.C., Potter was 31-of-45 in his career and made 211 extra points.
Potter has a strong leg and will likely be the Tigers new kickoff guy after recording 117 touchbacks on 126 kickoffs during his senior season.
“I have not seen B.T. live, but obviously I saw him in high school and he was tremendous, but it is different,” Swinney said. “He may come in and be (Donald) Igwebuike right out of the gate, I don’t know. He might be unbelievable. I don’t know.”
Swinney knows what he has in Huegel and Spence. Huegel was Clemson’s starter in 2015 and ’16 when he made 41-of-51 attempts. His freshman year, he set the Clemson record for a single season by making 27-of-32 kicks. He came back in 2016 and connected on 14-of-19.
Last year, he kicked in the first three games before an injury in practice prior to the Boston College game ended the year early. In his last game before the injury, he made 2-of-3 kicks at Louisville from 42 and 49 yards out. The 49-yard kick is his career-long.
Huegel returned to practice towards the end of spring practice and did well. Swinney even put him in during the spring game, with no rush, so he could get used to kicking in front of a crowd again.
“When he kicked in practice he kicked well so I think he is back in a good spot mentally,” the Clemson coach said.
Spence is in a good spot mentally too. He rallied from a sluggish start last year—missing four of his first six kicks—to make seven of his last eight field goal tries, including a career-long 46 yarder in the ACC Championship Game against Miami.
He also was responsible for the Tigers’ only scores in the Sugar Bowl, making field goals of 44 and 42 yards.
“The experience was a game-changer for him in his confidence,” Swinney said. “He is in a good place.”
Swinney says he will treat the kicking situation just like the quarterback situation in fall camp. Everyone will get an equal chance to compete and then they will choose the guy who performs the best.
“It is very easy. It goes between the pipes or it doesn’t,” he said. “There is no gray area, you either make it or you don’t. If this guy goes out there and makes 55-percent of his kicks and this guy makes 75 percent of the same kicks, well it is kind of hard to say ‘let’s go with this guy who made 55 percent. He has more potential.’
“Potential gets you fired. Performance keeps your job and usually leads to winning. We are all about performance. Again, all you can do is put them out there and let them compete and we will see what happens.”
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